Eye of the Child, a child rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), has asked the office of the Ombudsman to charge Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu city councils for neglecting children who live and work in the cities’ streets.
A letter dated July 10 2018 written by the organisation’s executive director Maxwell Matewere, accuses the councils of violating Section 23 of the Constitution and Section 70 of the Child, Care, Protection and Justice Act of 2010.
Section 23 (1) of the Constitution states that all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, are entitled to equal treatment before the law.
On the other hand, the Child, Care, Protection and Justice Act states that it is the duty of every local government authority within its area of jurisdiction to, among others, safeguard and promote the welfare of children; and to mediate in any situation where the rights of a child are infringed.
According to the letter, if the three councils are to be found responsible for neglecting the children, the NGO wants them to remove all children living and working in the streets within 21 days; and present a report to the Ombudsman within 30 days.
Eye of the Child also wants the councils to develop plans on child protection to be presented to the Ombudsman within three months and finance implementation of the plans, further presenting reports to the Ombudsman every six months for three years.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Matewere confirmed writing the Ombudsman on the issues, saying if the councils will not comply, the NGO will take them to court.
He said: “There are so many harms that children in the streets face. All these are happening in the eyes of public officers who have the legal mandate to protect these children but they are not doing their work.”
Matewere said there is need for a permanent solution to it.
In an interview yesterday, Ombudsman spokesperson Arthur Semba confirmed receiving the letter from the NGO.
He said: “The issue has undergone screening in our office and we are currently drawing up an investigation plan to that effect.”
But a legal scholar, Justin Dzonzi, said while it is clear that the law puts an obligation on the local councils to provide such facilities for children, it must be distinguished from the authority to administer the law which lies with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Women, Disability and Social Welfare.
He said: “The obligation to ensure that the law is enforced is on the councils to ensure that they provide such facilities such as shelter, orphanages, foster homes and the like so the councils cannot run away from that responsibility.”
Dzonzi, however, hinted that there would be a challenge with seeking the Ombudsman’s intervention on the matter, saying the office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to enforce such an Act as it only administers administrative justice.
“The organisation would do better to seek judicial review of the Act from the High Court,” he said.
In a separate interview, legal scholar Ngeyi Kanyongolo hailed Eye of the Child for taking up the case with the Ombudsman.
She said: “The Ombudsman will interpret the provision and what it means in practise to guide action by the councils. I hope in future, if councils continue to breach such children’s rights as the right to protection, the NGO will take the matter to the High Court.”
When contacted yesterday, Mzuzu City Council chief executive officer (CEO) Mcloud Kadammanja said the responsibility of looking after the children does not lie with the council.
He said: “In the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, there is a social welfare office that looks into that, so maybe the NGO does not know how councils function.”
Blantyre City Council (BCC) spokesperson Anthony Kasunda also wondered why the NGO decided to take the council to task when there are responsible authorities tasked to do the same.
On her part, Lilongwe City Council (LCC) spokesperson Tamara Chafunya said she would not comment as the council had not seen the letter.
In April this year, Eye of the Child launched a four-year (2018-2022) National Advocacy Strategy for the Prevention of Children Living and Working on the street.
During the International Day of Street Children commemorations in the same month, Matewere told the media that Malawi has 5 000 registered street children.
He observed that street children are subjected to various forms of abuses, saying this calls for their protection and support.