Jackson Fumbe is a 12-year-old boy who is usually found at one busy road junction in Lusaka, the country’s capital.
Jackson and other shabbily dressed children have chosen the place as it is strategically located for both cars and people to pass by whom they ask for alms.
When asked what he was doing on the streets one late evening, Jackson was quick to state that it was his home.
“This is where I sleep with my friends because I have no one to take care of me since both my father and mother died. So we have chosen the streets as our refugees,” he said.
The street children are a common feature along the streets of the Zambian capital. They are usually found busy begging for money. Apart from begging, the street children get involved in all manners of vices such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Various factors have contributed to the rise in the number of street children in Zambia. Poverty has been identified as one of the factors fueling the problem.
An assessment situational report on street children in Lusaka conducted by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2017 found that high poverty levels in the country in which over 70 percent of the country’s population live in poverty was one factor pushing children from poor families onto the streets in order to survive.
The report warns that the number of street children would continue to rise because of the growing numbers of children being orphaned due to parents dying of HIV/AIDS.
On the other hand, the privatization of state enterprises in the 1990s resulted in many people losing jobs which made it difficult for most of them to take care of their families, resulting in some children flocking to the streets.
The situation has been worsened by the disintegrating extended family system in the country in which families can’t take care of children left behind by those who die.
Although it is difficult to establish the exact number of street children in Zambia, some stakeholders put it at about 1.5 million.
However, a glimmer of hope has shown in the path of the street children as the government has embarked on a program to provide them with various skills in order to lure them from the streets.
The Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development has partnered with the Zambia National Service, one of the defense wings of the government, to impart life-changing skills on the street children.
Ministry of Youth, Sports and Child Development Permanent Secretary Joe Kapembwa said recently that the ministry is targeting to have 1,000 street children for the first intake.
According to him, the partnership between the two government institutions will ensure that the street children are not given military training but life skills such as crafts, trades as well as agro-skills, among others.
Recently, the ministry sent 350 street children to a ZNS training camp in eastern Zambia’s Katete district as the commencement of the rehabilitation program. The sending of the children follows the completion of rehabilitation of facilities meant to accommodate the children.
The children were picked from Lusaka and the cities on the Copperbelt Province where the problem is rife.
Minister of Youth, Sport and Child Development Emmanuel Mulenga said the aim of the program was to remove all the street children from all the streets and take them to the training facilities so that they could be tutored accordingly and learn survival skills.
The Zambian minister, writing on his Facebook page, expressed optimism that the program will go a long way in tackling the problem of street children in the country and ensuring that the children are fully transformed.
“What seemed like an impossible journey has finally become a reality. The removal of street kids from the streets has been something that has been a battle, and we as the government still remained determined,” he said.
The minister, who visited the training facility recently, said he was pleased with what he found, adding that it was gratifying to see smiles on the faces of the children whose lives seemed to have no destinies on the streets.
The ministry, he said, has an exit plan for the children once they are empowered with skills, adding that they will be awarded with certificates and provided with start-up tools and materials needed for them to excel in the business once they complete their training.
While welcoming the initiative, Henry Kabwe, executive director of the Media Network on Child Rights and Development says apart from providing the children with skills, the authorities should also consider providing psychosocial counseling.
According to him, this will ensure that children are developed in all spheres in order for them to become better citizens.
“We need a holistic approach to this problem. There is also a need to provide education from primary to secondary level at the facilities because some of the children dropped out of school due to various challenges,” he said in an interview.
He has been supported by Prince Kaping’a, a street children advocate, who feels that the problem of street children requires a multifaceted approach from all stakeholders.
“We’re privy to the fact that the government can’t address the problem of street kids alone,” he said.
He said each sector of society from the family to the government should play a role in ensuring that tangible solutions are found to tackle the problem given that past approaches have usually failed. Enditem