When children become parents

At the age of five, Kalaliki Konzani and his twin brother John from Kasumbu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Masula in Lilongwe started to live a life of sorrow.

Their father left the house due to quarrels he used to have with their mother.

Lost in thoughts on what they will eat at home, Kalaliki, now 15, said: “Our father never came back for us. Instead, he got married to another woman. From what I hear, he is now a domestic worker in a well to do family in Area 47.”

Konzani: I had to drop out of school

When their mother saw that the children’s father was neither coming back nor supporting them, she also walked away from her responsibilities.

“One morning we woke up without our mother. She had left us. Rumours say she is now in Mozambique seeking greener pastures. That was the beginning of our life as a child headed family,” said Kalaliki, looking sad and dejected.

In 2017, the two brothers had to drop out of school when they were in Standard Five as they could not fend for themselves.

“I used to go to school in rags and hungry. Having a mere school uniform was a privilege for many students at my school. My brother and I got tired of being laughed at due to our poverty and we had to quit,” added Kalaliki.

For the past four years, the two have been surviving on piece works.

He said: “We have to work for food. On a daily basis we spend at least K500 to K1 000 as you know maize is now expensive. We take each day as it comes.”

Every rainy season, living in a leaking house has been torture for the young boys as they cannot afford a plastic sheet and grass for a thatch.

“I know we are young, and it is our prayer that someone out there will help. We want to continue with our education but lack of food and clothes will never let us achieve that dream,” added Kalaliki.

Bostoni Veresoni from Matsimbe Village in the same T/A also narrated how his parents parted ways.

“They could fight like kids on a daily basis until they got tired and split. The burden to look after our little sister was now left on me and my elder sister who also has a baby to look after as the man who impregnated her no longer supports the child.

“We have to plough people’s farms or help them plant crops if we are to get money for food that day. When the farming season is over we find alternatives like fetching water for others and on a bad day, we had sleep on an empty stomach,” he said.

The 14-year-old dropped out of school after failing to pay Standard Eight examinations fee.

“That was the only solution. I did not find anyone to help me with the examination fees and after seeing that food was hardly on our table, I had to man up and help my family,” he said.

But the area’s child protection officer Friday Chawantha said all these problems are a result of people not understanding the role of his office.

“Most children when faced with hardships do not know where to go. Instead, they just drop out of school without seeking help. As child protection workers in Masula area, it is our job to receive such cases and if resources allow us, help where necessary,” he said.

Chawantha’s fear lies in the absence of service providers in the area, saying it has largely contributed to the high number of dropouts in boys and girls.

He said: “I have to admit that our office faces a lot of challenges which makes it hard for us to work and reach out to every child. We do not have transportation modes and we are only two child protection workers.

“Aside passion for the job, we need to be motivated both financially and physically if we are to indeed protect a child from harm. Parents need to be sensitised on various issues including the rights of children.”

Child protection activist Amos Chibwana concurred with Chawantha. He said the child protection workers do not reach everyone and fail to attend to cases that arise due to the challenges they face.

“Most of them are volunteers which is something to be proud of as it takes a few to dedicate their time and resources for the good of others. Sometimes they do not have transportation or airtime but they make sure they help a child whose case is in their hands,” he said.

Currently Malawi has about 1.8 million vulnerable children according to the 2014-2019 National Policy on Orphans and Vulnerable Children and all they need is proper care and support.

The overarching goal of the policy is to facilitate the care, protection and development of orphans and vulnerable children in a coordinated manner in order to provide them with an environment in which they realise their full rights and potentials.

With only days to end the year, the policy still strives to see that by the end of 2019, the survival, protection and development of 1.4 million vulnerable children in Malawi has been improved through strengthened capacity of the families, communities and government and enhanced policy and legisilation.

A week ago during the commemoration of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child’s 30th Anniversary, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Navitcha said government will recruit more child protection workers to add to the existing 800 to help protect children in local communities.

But child rights activists insist that government should first of all look at the welfare of the current child protection workers before considering the idea to recruit more.

Findings of the 2017-2018 census defined vulnerable learners as those who lack basic needs such as school uniforms, learning materials and about 390 323 were identified representing 7.2 percent of total enrolment. Aside being enrolled in schools, the children need support from their families and communities if they are to continue with their education.

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