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Friday, 15 February 2013

STREET CHILDREN



Street Children

A street child or youth is “any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street (in the broadest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become her or his habitual abode and/or sources of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults”. However the definition is meant to cover both children of the streets and children on the streets. These kids are vulnerable and prone to abuse and diseases such as categorised below:

  1. Child Abuse
Over one half of the street children are concerned with child sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse as their concept of child abuse. Nearly forty three percent (42.6%) of the children identified sexual abuse as the most prevalent form of child abuse. The majority of the street children felt that child sexual abuse was caused by poverty, psychological problems, to power imbalances and by dysfunctional families.It is confirmed that street children are engaging in risky sexual behaviour. They experience casual sex, rape, prostitution, and sex for goods and other services. Younger boys engage in sex without protection, while other boys were raped by older male youth or adult street people. Some had “girlfriends” or “boyfriends”, others buy or sell sex while some had sex with friends as a way of living.

  1. HIV/AIDS/STIs Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices
The majority of those who are sexually active (50.8%) are in the 11 to 15 years age group, while, 38.5% were in the 16 to 18 years age group and 10.8% were in the 6 to 10 years age group. From this study it was found that street children are engaged in sex at a very young age. Again children who slept both at home and on the street were likely to have had sex than children in other categories. Again children who slept both at home and on the street are more likely to be affected by an STI. But a few children could identify at least three symptoms of STIs (STDs) while most of them can not mention three symptoms of STIs. And some of the children said they could tell one has HIV just by looking at them while others said they could not tell by looking. The majority of the street children are at a risk for getting HIV, though some of them felt it was only commercial sex workers, or promiscuous persons.Some street children identified use of condoms as a measure to reduce the spread of HIV;however seeking treatment has certain flaws to them such as privacy andthe low or absence of costs of treatment as the reason why they would seek treatment from a particular healthprovider

  1. Community Responses
Street children are seen as “vagrants”, “illegal vendors” or “truants” by both the law and the general public. Focused group discussions with street adults confirmed what many street children felt that many people view street children as irresponsible young persons who were “criminals in the making”. Reactions to such children thus tend to be punitive and anti-social and delinquent behaviour stemming from poverty is not considered in its proper social and psychological context

In Zimbabwe there is a growing disquiet over the numbers of children working and living on the streets. These children have been portrayed, especially in the electronic and print media, as being little thieves or criminals in the making. Their moral values and behaviour are seen as different from that of other children who are not street children. This is so as they are seen to lack parental guidance and protection. Some children loading and unloading trucks and buses, exerts a great deal of demand on their meagre calorific reserves. This, together with excessive alcohol use and poor nutrition, may weaken their resistance to diseases. Children’s work is generally assumed to impair their educational and intellectual development as work leaves them with little time and energy for school. The majority of street children have little or no education at all. Street children are seen to be at risk for HIV-infection given their sexual behaviour; however there is limited information on the HIV-infection rates amongst street children in Zimbabwe. Exchange of sex for security, comfort sex based on mutual consent, sex with female sex workers, and having their “wives” sell sex as an income-generating activity for the “couple”.

A careful analysis of the street children phenomenon reflects a number of immediate, underlying and basic causes. Available literature on street children in Zimbabwe from academic presentations, journal articles, books by researchers and situational analysis and survey reports, show a plethora of causal factors and effects to the street children problem.
The phenomenon of street children in all countries seems to be a social institution with basic social, economic andenvironmental causes (Auret, 1995; Bourdillon, 1991; Dube, 1999; Muchini, op. cit., Muchini and Nyandiya-Bundy, op. cit.). It appears to have basic causes in the polity, the economy and other basic social factors such as public social policies about employment, housing and land ownership. Thus, for the larger number of street children, the underlying and basic causes for pushing them onto the streets lie in the increasing number of families surviving under extreme poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunity for social mobility and strained family relationships

BY BRENALD CHINYOWA
DIRECTOR & FOUNDER OF RAY OF HOPE FOUNDATION
 

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