The police in Malawi are hunting street children like rats, sending them to jails meant for adult criminals. In confinement, they endure sexual abuse and are exposed to criminality by hardened criminals.
There is also a gang of vendors who apprehend, injure and bring to police these children, accusing them of pick-pocketing, car-breaking and other crimes.
There are some street children in conflict with the law, but most of them are go-betweens, courier agents and witnesses in criminal activities masterminded by adults.
The gangs, sometimes working with police and some business tycoons in town, find it easy to use vulnerable children as shields and society places all the blame on them.
They are sometimes intimidated by their handlers, even threatened with death. Others give in to criminal minds to survive the harsh conditions on our brutal streets, morphing into hardcore criminals in the process.
Even our homegrown children would do a similar act if caught between a rock and a hard place.
The police conduct only displays blatant disregard for children’s rights. The continued sweeping exercise to round up street children at night as criminals is inhumane. It shows how our society has retrogressed in protecting rights of voiceless minorities.
Despite the donor-funded training and activities to reform the police service and transform it into a rights-based crime fighting machinery, the brutal image of the old cop still looms large.
It is ironic that government accepts donor funds with open arms, yet it does not seem to believe in the desired police reforms.
The influx of street children is a problem nobody has an appetite to solve, except by brutal means. Liken it to a brakeless lorry out of control, fully packed with rocks, cruising down a steep slope towards a village downhill and the driver has jumped out.
As cities grow, so does the problem and it will haunt you when you least expect it
Roughly, there are over 2000 street kids on the streets of Lilongwe and Blantyre—and the number can only grow.
When they become hardened criminals, you will have nowhere to park your cars or to walk freely. Your homes will have burglar bars up to the sky and you will always watch your backs and hold on to your children when walking.
If we do not solve the problem now, we and our children will pay a huge cost for our indifference.
Ironically, there is very little effort and few resources from the donor community, corporate firms and government to support re-integration, education and skills development of street children
Few child protection organisations such as Chisomo Children’s Club are struggling to get donor and government support. They do not exist to make profit, but to avert the catastrophe likely to haunt this country if we do nothing about transforming street children into good citizens.
Apparently, the people at the helm of our police service collaborate less than the previous leadership which could bring street children to safe homes, including Chisomo.
These days, it is a horde of criminal investigative detectives coming to interview and further traumatise a child who has witnessed crime. For these helpless children, this country is becoming more heartless.
Every day, over 100 street children spend hours at Chisomo Children’s Centre where they get food, play games, get counselling and gain vocational and life skills.
These young Malawians could be loitering and wreaking havoc on our streets as the rest do.
Let us spare some resources and bring meaningful support to these efforts to make streets safer and transform children into productive citizens instead of traumatising them in the name of ensuring law and order.
Not supporting the cause to transform street children is making a bed of thorns on which we will lie, soon.