Behind closed doors, in the safety of our cars, we see them, we talk about them, we judge them and then we pity them. We then suggest ways and ideas to help them, but we rarely go beyond words.
Sometimes we’re emotional to give them those few coins that we threw in the cup holder on our way out of the mall and somehow feel like we’ve done them a favor.
Despite the usual perceptions surrounding street children, I have had the privilege of seeing their young and optimistic side. Having had to grow up quickly and learn to fend for themselves, it’s no wonder they’ve earned all the bad press.
Their tough, raw, and hardened characters are just the result of the harsh living conditions they had to endure and the skills needed to survive on these streets.
Statistics from a 2017/2018 research in around six regions of Tanzania show that Dar es Salaam has around 2,984 street children. Mwanza has 978 children, Arusha 544, Iringa 954, Dodoma 347 and Mbeya 586.
According to these statistics, the regions of Mwanza and Iringa are more prevalent due to domestic violence and the difficulties that cause children to flee the streets.
The main reason given by these young people for their condition is domestic violence, especially in these key regions.
Society has developed many negative perceptions and attitudes towards these children, which leads to a lot of abuse and even to the isolation of most of society, which is probably dangerous and, more often than not. , could get them to participate in informal activities. with gangs
It is now common to hear terrifying stories of child abuse by parents or family members. Children as young as three are increasingly sexually abused, starved and ignored by the family and the community at large.
The key players who are supposed to play a leading role in finding a solution to the problem have become the main source of the problem.
Government policies that embrace liberalization and market economy are factors that contribute to the persistent state of poverty and increasing hardship, children being the most affected.
The family, which is supposed to be the bedrock of the well-being and protection of children, has today become a major cause of the problem of street children. Parents send their children to the streets to beg, steal or do petty trade.
Children leave their homes to escape domestic violence or because of the breakdown of family structures.
Schools turn into centers of violence and crime and create an environment that puts more children on the streets.
Life in the streets
Rahel and Jamal
Rahel Ismail, 10, took to the streets of Dar at the age of six, barely out of the toddler stage, with his older brother. It’s a sad story, though quite common for many street children.
“I am from Mwanza where we escaped after an increase in abuse from our mother-in-law. We stole money from him for the price of the ticket and we got here, ”said Rahel Ismail.
However, you can’t help but ask yourself a lot of questions. These children live here in Dar es Salaam, a city that needs money just to meet its basic needs.
There are no farms close to the places these children frequent and therefore the question of how they survive in addition to the commonly perceived means of theft is always a persistent problem.
However, 11-year-old Jamal responds with great confidence that they survive by begging from local traders and other passers-by. “We also find ourselves forcibly cleaning the cars even if their owners don’t want it and it earns us as little as 500 Sh so we have a meal and so I think it is better to stay on the street than to be at home to live in violence, says Jamal.
At the end of the day, after all the hustle and bustle, these kids need to find a place to retreat for the night.
Although some can still be seen roaming the streets at night, most are found in sufficiently comfortable and comfortable places under bridges and call it a day.
Jackson and Halfani
Jackson Peter found himself homeless at the age of twelve due to difficult domestic conditions. However, in search of a livelihood, he found a job preparing gravel for construction.
In addition to his gravel prep job, Jackson also explains that there are other days he works at the bus stop carrying passenger luggage and other days he collects plastic bottles for them. recycle that he resells and earns himself a daily meal.
I found myself on the streets when I was 12 because of the abuse I suffered from my parents and decided to go in search of a better life. I am now 17 years old and I am still on the streets. It got to the point where I was denied food and I almost got burned alive, so the street was a better option than the house I was suffering from, ” Jackson said.
He tells Life & Style that life on the streets as a child is very difficult and that he does not want to see other children like him go through the difficult situations he has been through. “Food is very difficult to find and finding a decent place to sleep is even more difficult for personal safety reasons,” says Jackson.
There is a saying that goes “you cannot understand someone until you have walked a mile in their place” and this is true of street children.
“Try to understand these children whose feeding is difficult, who sleep in dirty places with mosquitoes and consider how much they are affected by the environment,” Halfani Ismail, another street kid, told me.
“This environment affected me so much that I learned to smoke marijuana and cigarettes to reduce my stress and use drugs to feel good,” said Halfani Ismail, who declined to mention her actual age.
Perceptions of street children
Zuhura Raphael explains that when she sees these street children, she keeps her wallet well for fear of a possible crime because she considers them to be street thieves. Zuhura, however, is one of the many citizens who are prejudiced against street children. Sometimes the easiest and nicest thing to do would be to try to understand the circumstances in which these children find themselves. Although society treats them like hooligans, with bad habits of theft and crime, they themselves still struggle to get what they want and need. .
Mariam Elias is a small businesswoman in Mwenge and she explains that street children often ask for money for daily necessities such as food and water. “Sometimes they ask us to give them a job to earn money so they can have a meal for a day because they are still young,” said Mariam.
Meanwhile, Ziada Salehe, a street vendor in Ubungo believes that not all of them are a threat and advises community members that these children should have opportunities and platforms to create better young people as well as better parents because when parents and guardians are not compassionate. , the lack of fear of God will create a generation of street children.
How we could help them
Not enough is being done to solve the problem and street children remain an ignored tragedy that is expected to have a devastating impact on the development of African countries.
Audax Abeli is the director of the Azaria Foundation, a non-governmental organization that helps vulnerable children identify and overcome the negative aspects of child abuse and get them off the streets.
He also lived the life of a street child, and the main reason he fled from home to the streets was domestic violence, especially the beatings he suffered at home. He decided to open a center that allows street children by providing education and moral support to overcome bad behavior.
Street children face unspeakable hardships and dangers on the streets. They lack adequate food, clean water and health care. Living and working on the street takes a heavy toll on street children.
They are often plagued by all physical and moral dangers and as they age they often become a danger to others. After such precarious childhoods, most of them are condemned to spend their lives excluded from the dominant society.
Dr Juma Maligi, sociologist, works with the community to solve community problems, in particular to eliminate children from the streets.
“It is important to understand that social work is practiced through education with the aim of improving living conditions with cooperative parents and other stakeholders, because the main reason for street children is the bad ones. living conditions ? Said Dr Maligi.
He explains that social issues, including violence against women and children, totally affect children.
Making sure to fight on this issue, we are working with various stakeholders to educate the community, especially at the family level to raise the education, self-awareness of children through institutions such as schools, families, places of work as well as the community at large.
“The biggest help to give these kids are seminars that will teach them to quit living in gangs while helping them develop the skills they need. At the Azaria Foundation, we give training much like the VETA schools so that they become more competent and aware, ”explains Audax.
VETA and other institutions that focus on the vocational training of individuals stand ready to help these children develop their technical skills and present them as constructive citizens.
For a developing country like Tanzania, such pro bono training may not be such a bad idea for the government if there is any hope of curbing this problem.
The rush for urbanization has undoubtedly been the main culprit in the increase in the number of street children. Couple that with liberalization policies that promised better chances of economic relief, you find yourself with a large number of hopeful individuals taking to the streets in search of that relief.
Of all the agents capable of acting on the problem of street children, the state is perhaps the best placed to tackle the problem. However, part of the tragedy of street children is how governments have abandoned them to their fate.
The government must implement policies that protect children from abuse in the home to prevent a wave of street children. We could use the example set by other countries and, in partnership with the community, set up hotlines to report incidents of mistreatment by parents and guardians and an equally responsive team that processes these reports quickly.