Malawi's street children's rights are still in jeopardy
According to statistics, as of 2020, Malawi had approximately 4,000 children living on the streets of cities such as Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, and Zomba.
MALAWI: Street children can be found in every region of Malawi. According to statistics, as of 2020, Malawi had approximately 4,000 children living on the streets of cities such as Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu, and Zomba.
Experts estimate that there will be at least 6,000 street children in the country by 2022.
These children survive by pickpocketing and begging, which has made the general public fearful of venturing out onto the streets. However, these children are subjected to far more severe forms of violence and abuse from the general public, including sexual abuse and physical harm.
“My mother is alive and she is at home, but she is very poor and cannot look after me and my siblings. So, because of problems we face at home, I decided to come on the street so that, perhaps, people can see me and help me with food and money," said Chikondi, who dropped out of school while in Standard 4.
Tadala, a Lilongwe-based child, has taken to the streets in the same way that Chikondi has. She told this publication that she was part of a group that included two young boys and that they went around the city of Lilongwe begging for money, food, and other items from members of the general public they encountered.
“I have only one parent, my mother. My father died and we are four of us in our family. My mother is unable to care for all of us and my grandmother also stays with my mother. So, since we need adequate food, clothing, and money I chose to walk around the streets and beg so that I can get what I need. Orphanhood, poverty, and divorce of parents force us to end up on the streets,” Tadala said.
She went on to say that as street children, she and her friends were subjected to varying degrees of traumatic discrimination and abuse.
“We mostly face psychological trauma as some people ridicule and swear at us whenever we approach them for help. And instead of giving us valuable items, some people give us peels of bananas or those of raw cassava,” she said.
According to Fred Simwaka, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare, and Community Development, street children not only face numerous challenges but also disrupt citizens' daily lives due to the country's large number of street children.
“The Government of Malawi really cares for these children. This is why it introduced Early Childhood Development (ECD), a program that is delivered through an extensive network of community initiatives and centres for the most vulnerable children under the age of six] and passed the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act of 2010 to make sure that children are given adequate care and support. Talking of the street children, the government is aware of the abuse the children are subjected to,” Simwaka said.
However, Caleb Ng'ombo, Executive Director of People Serving Girls At Risk, a Lilongwe-based NGO, believes the government is not doing enough to protect the rights of street children.
“Children on the streets are subjected to harrowing cases of violence, in addition to harsh weather and being kidnapped or killed. Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [which Malawi has ratified] provides for the protection of children in and out of the home,” said Ng’ombo.
Ng'ombo also stated that the government must strengthen safety nets by providing socioeconomic support to low-income families and prioritizing children caring for families in order to reduce the risks of abuse and exploitation for these children.
Malawi is a member of the United Nations Child Rights Committee (UNCRC), whose goals include ensuring that governments meet children's basic rights, such as the right to life, survival, and development; the right to protection from violence, abuse, or neglect; the right to an education that allows children to reach their full potential; and the right to be raised by or have a relationship with their parents.
These goals extend to street children, who must be protected by the government from abuse and the hardships of life on the streets.