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Everyone knows there are a lot of children working and frequently living on the streets of Zimbabwe’s urban areas with most of us seeing them as someone else’s problem and someone else’s responsibility. As a result we could lose thousands of people who would otherwise become good and useful citizens of Zimbabwe. Deputy Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Tapuwa Matangaidze has made public the true scale of the problem, and outlined a series of steps that are being taken, but which need the input from a lot of people, in both money, other resources and time.
A survey by the social welfare officers in the Ministry came up with the staggering figure of 4 701 children on the streets of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Beitbridge. This might startle those who feel the problem is containable, meeting about a dozen or two on their daily commutes.
But when you add up all those intersections, markets and the like it is a quite believable figure.
The problem is both resources and the willingness of children and families to co-operate with the authorities. Last year, the ministry did manage to move 463 children off the streets, a not inconsiderable figure, but less than 10 percent of the total.
Now it wants to make a far greater effort, and to do so it has enlisted support from civil society and seeks support from the public. A Children on the Streets Fund has been established, that can channel money from civil society to agreed goals. The Taskforce for Children Living and Working on the Streets includes ministry experts, officials from other relevant ministries, representatives from civil society and representatives from the local authority.
Such a taskforce is sufficiently widely based that it should be able to generate far greater effective efforts to rescue children.
Many of the children are resourceful; they manage to get by on the streets. Yet just how much more resourceful and effective would they be in far more productive areas in future if they were educated, cared for and nurtured.
The taskforce has discovered that there are families and parents who dump their children on the streets to beg.
They talk of arrests, although this may be a last resort. But on the other hand there are tens of thousands of poor families and very poor single parents who do manage to raise their children in some decency.
We hear of vendors and domestic workers making huge sacrifices to get children through school and while you might get some mothers in these groups having babies and toddlers with them, you do not see them with school-age children.
Many of these fundamentally sound parents could, though, probably use access to some sort of child care and school fees help.
There are many thousands of orphans and other children with appalling backgrounds who are already being looked after by grandparents or other relatives, sometimes with the financial load shared among several family members.
Most of the street children, previous studies have shown, have fled abusive homes or have no immediate family. Orphanages are often a last resort, but it has been argued that frequently a better solution and usually a far cheaper solution, is a bit of assistance to a poverty-stricken grandmother or aunt, so a basic home is possible, backed by advice and expertise to help a street child move back into a far more normal childhood; that is not always easy.
The main point is that the ministry is now trying to do something a lot more effective and is not just tolerating civil society assistance, but actively seeking it for both the financial support required and the involvement of a lot more people and a lot of better ideas in how to move forward.
Street children are more than just a nuisance. They are an opportunity for a lot of people to do something constructive to turn the abandoned or exploited into future responsible and productive adults.
We all need to remember that every child rescued is one more child saved, and one less problem adult for our children to cope with.