ZAMBIA: Government fails to break the street kid addiction

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A child works at a stone quarry
Lusaka, 12 June 2008 (PlusNews) - A pilot project to rehabilitate thousands of children living on the streets of the Zambian capital of Lusaka is failing because government is excluding civil society from the programme, civic leaders are claiming.

Two years ago, the government began recruiting Lusaka's street kids and placing them into training centres under the auspices of the Zambia National Service - a department of the government’s national security services that also includes the police and army - to provide them trade skills, such as carpentry and tailoring.

But following their graduation from life and trade skills training, the street kids are returning to their old lives, as there has been no planning by government on how the skills could be utilized by the street kids to their benefit.

"We have not planned well in terms of the exit strategy. There is so much government resources that have gone into rehabilitating street kids over the last two years, but there is no thinking as to where the children will go after training," Godfridah Sumaili, chairperson of the Children In Need Network, a coalition of nongovernmental organisations working with orphans and vulnerable children, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"This programme is failing, mostly because government has not worked closely with the civil society. It was executed without the involvement of the civil society. Government should ensure that civil society is fully involved in terms of helping to resettle these [trained] children," he said. 

Moses Phiri, 15, is one of thousands of Zambia's street kids who were sent to one of the training centres, but since completing his rehabilitation has returned to his old haunts and ways, begging on the streets for money.

"I [have] lived like this since 2001 when [my] parents died. I sleep in ditches. If I see people carrying plastic bags, I ask to help. They give anything, maybe 1,000 kwacha [US$ 0.30], maybe more. I was forced to leave [the] streets, but that programme is not good, it’s not helping us," Phiri told IRIN/PlusNews.

Street life exposes children to violence, exploitative and hazardous labour conditions, such as sex-work and child trafficking, and a plan to counter these influences was drawn up by government in 2006.

For nearly two years the Street Kids Rehabilitation programme has been targeting male children on the streets and recruiting them to one of three training centres situated in Copper Belt and Eastern provinces and one centre on the outskirts of Lusaka.

The pilot project is only targeting boys from Lusaka at this stage and not from any other urban areas in Zambia as yet.

Since the programme's inception in late 2006, government estimates that more than 1,200 children have successfully completed the skills training and rehabilitation programme, although only a handful of them have managed to earn a living from the skills they have acquired.

"If they [government] want me to leave [the streets], let them also give me job. They take me to camp, they teach me English, they teach me to make beds, to make chairs; but they don’t give me a job after. They give me tools. I sold them for a cheap price. So, I have come back to start begging again, nothing has changed. I have no supporter [sponsor], I beg to live," Phiri said.

The addiction of street life

Poverty and HIV/AIDS are often cited as the major factors responsible for Zambia’s growing numbers of street children.

About two-thirds of Zambia's 12 million people live on US$1 or less per day, while UNAIDS estimated that about 17 percent of people aged between 15 and 49 years old are infected with HIV/AIDS.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that Zambia has about 1,25 million orphans, or one in every four children, and of those orphans about 50 percent are 10 years-old or younger.

According to government figures, there are about 75,000 street children in Zambia, although unofficial estimates put the figure at about twice that number.

The minister of community development Catherine Namugala, whose department is also involved in the street kid rehabilitation programme, told IRIN/PlusNews the government could not be wholly blamed for street children returning to their old ways after graduating from the training camps.

"It must be appreciated that these skills are just meant to help the children stand on their own, and not continue begging on the streets. The problem is that they are addicted to street life. Street life is addictive.

''When a child goes on the street, first he gets scared of the environment but afterwards, he becomes used to it and it is very difficult to rehabilitate him once he reaches that stage''
"When a child goes on the street, first he gets scared of the environment but afterwards, he becomes used to it and it is very difficult to rehabilitate him once he reaches that stage," Namugala said.

"We give these children tools to use in their new trade, but the problem is that they want everything to be done for them. Government can’t create jobs for everyone, that’s why we are empowering our children to become self-reliant and, above all, to instill discipline in them," she said.

Viola Kamutumwa, a child care specialist and consultant, said if the skills programme was to succeed, government had to change its approach and instill a sense of independence and entrepreneurial know-how.

"Government should be telling these children the truth that they have to fight for their own survival after the training," she said.

"Children need to be constantly reminded that there is no market for their services, but they have to create it themselves, otherwise they forget and the end product is what we are seeing now – they are back on the streets," Kamutumwa said.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Urban Risk, Youth - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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