COVID-19 awakens the plight of ‘street kids’
By Tauno Iileka
Children living on the streets, or loosely known as ‘street kids,’ have been a concern for several years now. This issue seemed to have gone off the radar for a while with previous efforts to reintegrate street children back into their homes and schools. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of street children has resurfaced.
The Namibian newspaper reported in 2017 that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare had made efforts to get street children into day care and after school centres where they were offered meals and various extramural activities. However, these efforts have seemingly proved futile as the children had returned to the streets to make easy money.
Several media articles report that many other individuals and organisations had also attempted to return street children to their homes, particularly those originally from Gobabis who came to Windhoek in search of “greener pastures.”
Efforts during COVID-19
With the outbreak of COVID-19 in Namibia, especially during the lockdown period which required people to stay home and only leave under special and strict circumstances, authorities again attempted to return the street children back to their homes.
The Omaheke Regional Division of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare (which is responsible for child welfare) rounded-up 41 street children and returned them to their homes in March this year. The aim was to minimise their exposure to the Coronavirus because they are prone to poor hygiene and health hazards as they rummage through rubbish bins and dumping sites in search of food remnants, and performing odd jobs for motorists for some menial cash.
Food were provided to their homes because a lack of food at home is one of the major reasons children in the region lived on the street to beg for money and food to sustain their families. Social workers had psychosocial engagements with these children and their parents to sensitize them on issues such as parental responsibilities towards their children, the physical and mental wellbeing of children, supervision of children, discipline and the effects of COVID-19.
Several weeks later, the children have returned to the streets, thereby negating these efforts.
The vicious cycle
A conundrum of domestic constructs leads these children back to the streets, making the issue of street children a plight for regional authorities.
The division responsible for child welfare in the region has found that poverty and economic hardships force parents to encourage children to beg for food and money on the streets in order to sustain their households. Some parents reject their children because they are supposedly ill-disciplined and they find it difficult to control them. These children end up fending for themselves and become delinquents who resort to petty crimes for survival.
A more unfortunate instance is where orphans are abused by their guardians. To escape such abuse, they find solace in their peers who live on the streets, as The Namibian newspaper reported in September year.
Regardless of how they landed on the streets, these children become accustomed to the dynamics of street life such as gaining the sympathy of their benefactors in order to earn more money. They become addicted to drugs and other illicit substances such dagga (cannabis), crack cocaine, mandrax, glue and petrol which they sniff.
These ‘experienced street children’ (if you will) then ‘recruit’ other children who may be in the same situations.
Apart from the fact that this vicious cycle continues, every effort helps in improving this issue. Authorities have persistently called for a vigorous multi-sectoral and cohesive approach from the public and private sector as well as society all together to continue improving this complex issue.
It is clear that street children need a robust rehabilitation programme to successfully reintegrate them back into their homes and schools. While authorities and humanitarian organisations continue to provide psychosocial support and basic resources to this effect, private sector needs to supplement these efforts in the form of social responsibility programmes aimed at providing basic human needs and continuous counselling to these children and their families.
Private sector support is also required to equip rehabilitation and after school centers with human resources, educational and basic needs. Rehabilitation does not end with returning home or to school, but continuous monitoring is essential to ensure the children do not lack whatever led them to the streets.
Rather than giving children money and thereby inadvertently encouraging them to remain on such benefactors should supplement efforts to sensitize parents on their obligation to uphold children’s rights as enshrined in Article 15 of the Namibian Constitution and the United Nation’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Caption: Tauno Iileka is a Public Relations Practitioner employed by the Omaheke Regional Council. He writes in his personal capacity.