Increased attacks on people have provoked public fury against street-connected children in urban settings.
The public outcry has dialled up calls for law enforcers to rid the streets using mass arrests.
However, a counter-view is emerging that empowering the suspected children with skills for crime-free livelihoods could make the streets safe for all.
The children are not from the dark paths where they allegedly waylay passers-by, but the same communities they terrorise.
They feel neglected, denied of their right to parentage, safe homes, quality education and skills they can use.
However, campaigners say this has to change.
“They are kids just like any other, but the streets harden their hearts,” says Samaritan Trust executive director Katowa Mvula. “If supported, their lives can be transformed and they can leave the street.”
The child rights campaigner says skills development could free street-connected children from suffering, abuse, rejection, substance abuse and crime.
His charity has partnered the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) Authority to train street-connected children.
Martha Chiotha received training in electrical installation.
She has been living rough on the streets of Blantyre since her father’s death in 2011.
“Nobody chooses street life,” says Martha. “I became a street beggar due to untold misery as my jobless mother couldn’t provide basic needs.”
She recalls going to bed on an empty stomach and getting to school without food, uniform or learning materials.
Martha reckons that investing in skills development, safe homes and children’s rights would help create safer towns for all.
The girl joined Samaritan Trust after fleeing fierce beatings and to abuse from boys who used snatch her money.
“I didn’t like street life. The skills will help me become self-reliant and support my family,” says Martha.
Brino Ngozo, from Kasungu, joined the dark arts of street life in Blantyre as his parents could not meet his daily needs.
He says: “Street life is tough as children live without food, clothes and blankets.
“You sleep under bridges where older peers beat and force you to steal from passers-by. Girls get raped every night.”
Brino laments high youth unemployment which forces children from rehabilitation centres to return to the harsh streets.
He calls for greater investment in job creation, skills development and business capital for the youth.
The Tevet Authority (Teveta) has trained 450 street-connected children in partnership with Samaritan Trust.
Teveta executive director Elwin Sichiola says: “Teveta strives to provide access to Tevet to all Malawians regardless of their economic status and background.”
Samaritan Trust works with Blantyre City Council to lure street-connected children to its Teveta-approved vocational training centre.
“When the children come, our partners give us a head count and then Teveta funds the training in the trades chosen by the children through Samaritan’s bank account,” Sichiola says.
The Tevet regulator supervises its partners to provide training in line with the prescribed curriculum and training.
“We check the quality of all training processes so that we do not give certificates to half-baked trainees,” Sichiola explains.
However, some children drop out and return to street life.
Teveta plans to make reformatory vocational training programme for street-connected children part of its work nationwide.
Mvula says the children’s sustainable future is not on the rough streets, “but in empowering them to go back to school or acquire employable skills for self-employment or paid employment”.
“We send those with the capacity to handle academic work back to surrounding schools and the rest enroll with Samaritan Trust’s vocational skills training centre,” he explains.
Social workers from Samaritan Trust meet the street-connected children one by one during street outreaches.
Apart from enrolling them for vocation, the humanitarian organisation contacts parents and guardians to prepare them for reintegration.
“Some are referred to us through partners such as the district social welfare office,” Mvula states.
He urges the public against demonising street-connected children without supporting them to live like any other child.
Samaritan Trust, with support from well-wishers, has produced medical doctors, engineers, plumbers and bricklayers.
“You need to handle them patiently because they don’t trust easily. They treat everyone with suspicion.