Before Maliko Patrick’s birth seven years ago, her mother suffered a mental illness which put him at risk. As the condition got worse, his father dumped her in the care of her brother Thomas Mvula, a part-time driver at Kawale Township, Lilongwe.
“When Maliko was born, the police placed him at Village of Hope in Area 43, Lilongwe. We didn’t have a choice. He was a tiny baby and his mother wasn’t breastfeeding him. We had to save him,” recalls Mvula.
Throughout, Mvula’s family kept visiting him at the childcare centre. When Maliko was four years old, Village of Hope management summoned Mvula to take Maliko and raise him as his own.
“I did not hesitate because he is my blood. I took him in. He is now living here with us. I proudly call myself a father-of-six” says Mvula.
Clearly, Maliko feels at home despite spending the first years ‘away from home’.
“In the first months, he found it hard to associate with others. Now, he plays with them and we are one happy family,” says Mvula.
Maliko’s story is similar to that of Chikumbutso Brothers—Thoko, 10, and Stonald, 13. Their mother died when they were young and their grandparents took them to Village of Hope.
Since they left the institutionalised children’s home to reconnect with their family, the siblings look happy to be closer to their roots.
“We are living happy lives with our grandparents. We have the opportunity to know the people around us. It feels good to be surrounded by them. They teach us a lot,” says Stonald.
A study by Unicef in partnership with government shows that the number of childcare institutions in Malawi increased from 104 in 2011 to 168 in 2014 and 169 in 2017. The assessment indicates that during the same period, the number of children in institutional care decreased from 10 136 to 8 049 in 2017 due to the reintegration of children from institutional care.
The National Policy on Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children backs efforts to ensure that children should grow up in a family environment where they can socialise with fellow children.
According to the policymakers, placing children in institutional care should be the last resort.
Village of Hope activated the reintegration process in 2015.
“In 2016, we reunited 36 children with their families. Currently, from the 81 children the centre used to house, about 73 have been reintegrated. Sixty-eight of these children are back to their biological parents and five in foster homes and eight in a rented house in Area 25,” says Renatta Walton, director of the charity.
The reintegration policy is in line with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children announced in 2010 promote a family-centred approach to childcare.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Navicha says government upholds children’s constitutional right to be brought up by their families.
She says: “It is very encouraging that institutions are adhering to what government wants. We want to make sure children are happy and well taken care of.
“With reintegration we aim to see children grow and develop in their societies where they will learn cultural and moral values in a well-deserved manner compared to being raised in an institution, so it is my appeal for some care homes to also reintegrate the children they are holding.”
Child rights activist Amos Chibwana says although the reintegration policy requires constant support for families receiving the needy children from child care institutions, only a few organisations focus on family empowerment after repatriating the child.
“This affects the stability of the child at home; hence, other children opt to leave their homes to go back on the streets and others do go back to the institution because there are no basic needs at their homes,” he says.