Street Children Revisited: Critical Perspectives on Street-Connected Children in a Fragile Zimbabwean Socioeconomic Climate.

Author:Nhapi, Tatenda Goodman

Street children are perhaps one of the most visible signs of poverty and marginalization in urban environments, yet their rights are often not realized. Furthermore, street children lack formal representation, placing them outside the arena of policy development (Van Blerk, 2015). This conceptualization relates to both their relationship to the street and their status as both victims and perpetrators of crime; their complexity is key to their elusiveness. In addition, street children's independent status positions them outside the realms of the child protection services that place children under the care of adults; without adult representation, they often have limited or no access to services.

Objectives of this article are as follows:

* To provide critical perspectives of children on the streets amid socioeconomic turbulence

* To assess the challenges faced by children on the street in their quest for survival

* To account for the pervasive nature of street children and gaps in robust developmental programs mitigating their vulnerability

Risk and vulnerability in Zimbabwe emanate from a combination of intrinsically linked socioeconomic, environmental, and political factors. For example, Zimbabwe's decline in economic performance has had a negative effect on all aspects of life and well-being. Traditionally, Zimbabweans have cared for children in the unfortunate event that their birth parents cannot do so. The prevailing socioeconomic climate and HIV and AIDS outbreaks have increased the number of orphans and vulnerable children, pressuring the extended families and community who have traditionally provided care (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC], 2015).

The government, in partnership with such organizations as Streets Ahead and Scripture Union, has made efforts to remove the children from the street and to rehabilitate them. The children are accorded educational and training opportunities, and efforts are made to reunite them with their families (UNCRC, 2015). Children living and working on the streets are a highly mobile and transient population, and it is difficult to obtain reliable statistics on them. Most of the evidence on street children is anecdotal or based on the perceived number of highly visible child beggars (Manjengwa, Matema, Tirivanhu, & Tizora, 2016).

The Zimbabwean government and society have made no genuine attempt to define who these children are. A few studies have approached this problem from the children's perspectives, but some of these studies have not examined the communities from which the children come (Wakatama, 2007).

Zimbabwe has a Child Parliament in which children propagate their views on child rights and other issues that affect them. The Child Parliament has its origins in the Day of the African Child, commemorated annually in memory of the children of Soweto who were killed as a result of conflict during the Sharpeville massacre of 1976. Zimbabwe is battling her socioeconomic quagmires, and these do not spare the children on the street.

Zimbabwe is considered a low-income food-deficit country that is ranked 156 out of 187 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index, which measures progress and failures in the global fight against hunger. Interlinked with the economic turbulence is the phenomenon of children on the move, whose numbers keep growing in leaps and bounds with minimal abatement, especially in Zimbabwe. Children on the move, also commonly referred to as street children, are usually deprived of the opportunity to exercise their rights and often are found living in abject poverty and working for survival. It is unacceptable that most of these children have no one to give them the emotional, social, and practical support needed to meet either immediate or basic needs. This negates the proactive calls of the Sustainable Development Goals for concerted efforts to alleviate poverty and social exclusion, deprivation, and marginalization.

This article will explore the theoretical and policy gaps that prevent greater integration of street-connected children and children living on the street with the social development sectors in developing countries. This article is based on an extensive review of literature focusing on child protection and socioeconomic domains currently existing in Zimbabwe. The targeted literature includes academic journals, books, newspapers, blogs, reports, research studies, and magazines. This article is grounded in the historiography of commissioned studies and critiques on child protection.

This article will first outline the dynamics and drivers of the continued presence of children on the street. Secondly, the lived realities of street children will be described from a social development perspective. It will be shown that the challenges of street children have not yet been broadly integrated into social development paradigms. In the final section, some conceptual and policy implications of integrating the plight of street children into a child-centered social development agenda will be discussed, guided by pathways to enhance the best interests of these children. The article proposes a multi-stakeholder collaboration to acquire resources and mitigate the impact, occurrence, and multiplicity of this phenomenon in Zimbabwean streets. The rationale for such a multi-stakeholder collaboration is to interact, befriend, and mentor street children in situ, especially those who are new to the streets and younger children who are often used by adults as bait for crime and begging.

Location and Socioeconomic Context

Although the economy has been on a general recovery and stabilization trajectory since 2009, stabilization remains very tenuous and overdue (Chitambara, 2012). According to the African Economic Outlook (African Development Bank, 2017), 4,610 companies closed during 2001 to 2014, with manufacturing as a share of the gross domestic product falling from 15.5 percent in 2009 to 11.0 percent in 2014. The major challenge to the attainment of full economic recovery remains the highly volatile and unstable political phenomenon (which increases the political/country risk premium). Zimbabwe's economy depends heavily on mining and agriculture, sectors that contracted from 1998 to 2008. The economy recorded real growth of more than 10 percent per year from 2010 to 2013 before slowing to roughly 4 percent in 2014 due to poor harvests, low diamond revenues, and decreased investment (Central Intelligence Agency, 2017). Growth turned negative in 2016, and lower mineral prices, infrastructure and regulatory deficiencies, a poor investment climate, a large public and external debt burden, and extremely high government wage expenses impeded the country's economic performance. Economic and social upheaval has led to the breakdown of traditional family structures and values. The reduction in family size from extended to nuclear families has reduced the child support resources that were traditionally provided by the extended family (Wakatama, 2007).

As evidenced in the Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas 2015 (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency [ZIMSTAT], UNICEF-Zimbabwe, & World Bank, 2015) and in positions of the major UN organizations such as UNICEF and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), as well as census data from ZIMSTAT, the majority of Zimbabwe's poor live in rural areas. At the same time, however, in-depth studies and reviews show significant zones of urban poverty and vulnerability in towns and cities (Department for International Development [DFID], 2017). Recent research on children living on the streets suggests that being poor in an urban area can be worse than being poor in the rural areas because of the higher level of urban vulnerability to economic shocks (DFID 2017).

The 2013 Poverty, Income Consumption, and Expenditure Survey (PICES) concluded that poverty is more pervasive in rural than in urban areas and that 62.6 percent of Zimbabwean households are deemed poor whereas 16.2 percent are in extreme poverty (Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative, 2012). Ndlovu (2016) contended that much has been said and written about Zimbabwe's political and economic problems with very little mention of Zimbabwe's street children, who are a common feature of the urban landscape. Street children's life experiences can be viewed in the context of stigmatized identities and living on the margins of society (Ndlovu, 2016).

Articles 20 and 26 of the UNCRC (2015) state conclusively that "a child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State."

Urban children are generally considered better off than rural children; they are healthier, better housed, and better educated and they have access to a wider range of services and opportunities. In theory urban areas offer these advantages, but in reality there is an increasing number of children living in deep poverty, with their rights neglected, their needs unmet, and their prospects damaged by conditions that threaten their health and undermine their development. The HIV pandemic has given birth to a myriad of social quagmires in Zimbabwe and has not spared the children.

The extended family finds itself severely challenged by the economic hardships, and the principle of ubuntu (humanity toward others) has diminished in most communities; as a result, communities cannot assume the role of caregivers to the orphans. The number of children living, working, and begging in the streets has increased gradually over the years, mostly because of the harsh effects of the poor economy and the lack of robust social services in Zimbabwe. Some poor rural families expel children (for either safety or economic reasons), sending them to fend for themselves in nearby urban towns, where they eventually...

To continue reading