By Rev. Jan A. Scholtz
THE phenomenon of streetism in the world is a scourge which has reached alarming proportions in the developing world. The problem itself has been ramified in various manners by the continuous decline in international grants and most countries’ economics thus rendering social services and many infrastructures obsolete.
Due to poor living conditions and inaccessibility to means of livelihood, many young people have been pushed into the streets. However, despite being cognizance of the problem, not much has been done to put remedial mechanisms in place to curb the menace of streetism. These efforts should be collective, engaging public, private sectors and NGO’s support to make greater impact on this negative trend of living.
While in less developed nations streetism by young people has more of social and psychologically influenced factors, poverty to a larger extent is what drives many kids in Africa to the streets. These young people on the streets lose opportunities or formal education, the home environment, health facilities, food and nature at a time when it is most required in their lives.
In short, they lack adequate physical and emotional development while at the same time are also vulnerable to various health and environmental hazards and exploitation, with the advent of the HIV/Aids pandemic which is highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa where hundreds of thousands of children are also orphaned.
Accessibility to minimal resources has led to the marginalisation of these young people and they are disfranchised without the traditional support network. Some of them have no real home and spend their nights under trees, dilapidated houses, markets, rail/bus stations, shop fronts and many times in dungeons of sort.
Many street kids engage in menial type of economic activities for survival, these include begging, running errands, carrier service, vending, waste collection, etc. While some go home at the end of the day, contributing part or all of their earnings to the economic survival of their family units, many do not even have a home to return to hence the street is their work place and home.
No doubt, the economic recession experienced worldwide has a far greater impact on virtually all African countries. It has substantially left heads of households unemployed while at the same time governments can no longer meet with adequate social service for the welfare of such families.
On the other hand, according to the summary provided by the office of the judiciary to Namibian Sun published earlier this year, statistics have shown that out of 31,104 active maintenance cases before 33 of Namibian magistrate courts, 15,097 were default cases. In Windhoek, 8,290 default cases are before the maintenance court out of 11,479 active cases. This implies that fathers have abandoned their parental role of provider toward their offspring with the potential of seeing these kids on the street in the near future.
In the absence of their educational, food and health requirements being met by their families, young people are forced to the streets to fend for themselves. This, however, does not in any way constitute healthy living for our countries nor a hope for the future, welfare for our democracy, hence there’s a need for us to create awareness on the plight of young people on the streets in order to facilitate actions that would lead to programs for the alleviation of their sufferings.
We must embark on awareness programs with the primary aim of emphasising that if the street youth’s potentials are tapped in the right direction and diverted for development purposes, they will be genuinely a resource for development.
What can we do to help?
While not suggesting a universal approach to curb the menace of streetism in our towns, cities and regions, some of the programs suggested below could be adapted to given environments. First and foremost, however, there is the important need to carry out a survey/ needs assessment of a proposed project before implementation as the features of streetism differ from town to town, region to region.
Working parents of street kids need income that would enable them to meet at least the basic needs thus keeping their offspring off the streets, especially if the kids are not old enough to work for themselves. There is need to provide income generating programs for such parents including easy access to credit for those most likely to be involved in the informal sector.
Younger children, who have dropped out of school or have never been to school, need to be assisted to attend school or taught through special educational programs. Older groups of street kids might not be interested in informal education but might opt for vocational training that will enable then earn a living.
There is a great need for intensification of family planning and family life education especially among low income households and the unemployed.
The need for training street educators who would work with street children and other service oriented staff such as health educators cannot be over-emphasized. We need to make health facilities available to street children particularly preventive health education and where possible right out on the streets where they work, such as mobile clinics.
The laws that are in place need to be reinforced in other to reduce the rate of defaulting in the maintenance cases.
The program entails establishing a relationship with the children on the streets so as to gain their confidence and also create a sense of mutual trust. The street educators get to the streets in order to come to grips with the problems experienced by the children. The program tries to help the children right in their own habitat by giving them tips on various issues like health, drug use and abuse and human rights.
Outreach is a fact-finding exercise. Educators also try to enlighten street children about drop in centers’ and what services are offered there. Usually this comes to the fore when children complain of their inability to benefit from certain services like medical care, etc.
The outreach program can broaden its conceptualisation by including social diagnoses aimed at appreciating the child’s disposition on the street and how his/her home environment has adversely affected him/her. A more systematic approach is pursued, records are now being kept, i.e. bio-data of street children in a certain locality, while street educators are designated certain areas of operation where they undertake such exercises. The rationale behind record keeping stems from the need to comprehend demographic patterns of street children on a given area. It is in this manner that one understands the reasons behind sudden fluctuations in the number of children on the streets at given times.
Carrying out these programs would involve concerted effects and cooperation from government agencies, such as those for social services, education, youth, health, community development coming together and initiating definite programs rather than the usual duplication of efforts with thin resources spread over a range of programmes with little impact achieved, the service clubs, whose basic aims are to serve and facilitate development programs in under–privileged communities. Many of these clubs are interested in sustainable projects if expert advice can be rendered both in planning and execution of any of the programs.
Business firms, whether collective or private, have social responsibilities and obligations to their communities, but information, communication and coordination play a role in getting the business community involved in their environment. Coordinators of programs for such a group must, therefore, be good planners and communicators in order to win over business houses, as we must not forget the ultimate goal of entrepreneurs is to make money and not charity.
NGOs identify and work with communities for their development. A wide range of factors such a lack of data base, uncooperative attitudes of communities, political scenarios, cultural beliefs / customs, constitute part of the impediment to sustainability of projects. NGO’s can therefore, be encouraged to get involved in programs for street kids.
Peer education can have a great impact in educating and rehabilitating children who have been on the streets for quite some time.
In conclusion, with our struggling economy, there are greater possibilities for more families to become poorer, and more youth to take to the streets if adequate action is not taken to address the problems of street youth now. We need to realise that problems of street youth are usually a mirror of broader national socio-economic problems of our nations. Consequently by tackling problems of street youth, we are in effect tackling wider national socio-political, economic issues.
Therefore, a good number of surveys and studies which lie on our shelves should now be followed up with actions if these young people are to remain truly a Resource for Development.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015