Friday, August 21, 2009

can we proudly hold our heads high as a child rights conscious world?

The reality of an estimated 12 000 Zimbabwe’s children living on the streets came to a head when some of them gang raped a 38 year old woman in February this year. An act that can not be condoned no matter from which angle you look at it. However, looking at this unfortunate incident in isolation will not direct one to the root of the problem nor will it inform on a lasting solution. The gang rape of the woman does stand out in its gruesomeness and its implications of gender based violence. It should be acknowledged, however, that crime by children living on the streets has become an everyday occurrence that is ignored and at times engineered by members of mainstream society. A case in point being the accountant who connived with two children living on the streets to steal $100 million from her employer. Recently five of these children were paraded before a Harare magistrate for stealing 12 cell phones. The above scenario points to the fact that business and indeed the man or woman on the street can at any time be prey to children living on the street. A number of questions however arise. What are our children doing on the streets? Where have we failed them? What informs crime by children living on the streets? How should we respond to the reality of children living on the streets? Unless we can honestly answer these questions the problem of children living on the streets will continue to haunt us unabated.

Why the streets
Children do not belong to the streets. How then have we managed to send 12 000 of our children to live on the streets. Many reasons have been offered by the children themselves chief among which are child rights violations at family level. Granted, the family system has been brought to its knees by HIV and AIDS and economic hardships. Divorce and death has increased the prevalence of step parenting. In dealing with these challenges adults have trodden on children’s rights by failing to fulfil rights to participation, survival and development and non-discrimination. The best interests of the child have not taken centre stage. While government has put in place policies that encourage communities to take care of children in need of care, there has been a huge gap in political will to support community based structures from the fiscas. Children have therefore not been able to access proper health care, food, love and family life, protection, education, clothing, psychosocial support, birth registration and inheritance in the homes and communities that they live in. Child abuse, including sexual abuse by people who are in loco parentis, has become common place in the children’s environment. Trust and faith in mainstream society’s willingness and ability to look after children has been destroyed and children have therefore headed for the streets in their thousands.

Current Responses
That children should not live on the streets is a matter on which everyone is agreed. Responses however have tended to be high handed, authoritarian, piecemeal and not in the best interests of the child. The authorities have responded by rounding them up using sheer force and dumping them in children’s homes and farming areas. In the process 2 year olds ended up in children’s homes while their parents were in farming areas, a clear case of family disintegration. A snap survey in the children’s homes showed that a majority of the children placed in these homes have since run away back to the streets. It is not difficult to understand why children would run away form these institutions. Most of the homes are operating beyond their capacity as most of their children have been placed by the Department of Social Welfare on a place of safety basis, a temporary arrangement that is supposed to last for two weeks while the state is either trying to locate the family or finding a permanent home for the child. As Mrs. Karadzandima, Center Manager of Chinyaradzo Children’s’ Home states “in most cases the home finds itself stuck with children who are supposed to be on transit because the Department of Social Welfare has no manpower to do probation work”. To make matters worse those institutions are barely managing since government only supports them with $3 000.00 per child per month.

Families of these children have responded by pretending they are not missing a family member. Mainstream society at large has responded by being indifferent, exploitative and outright snobbish. The concept of duty towards all children has been lost completely as is illustrated by the report in the press that the magistrate court guests in the public gallery laughed when the arrested children gave their home address, as a street in Harare. If we can laugh at the homelessness of our children, where is our sense of shame? The media has responded by calling them “street kids”, a “menace” that should be “cleaned up”. Often when a supposedly responsible citizen, connives with children living on the streets to engage in crime, the children make the headlines while the real criminal, the citizen is mentioned in passing. There has been refusal to address the question of why these children will run away from children’s homes or from their families. Authorities have been preoccupied with appearing to do “something” about the problem by hiding them from the face of our streets. The action has not been taken with the active participation of the children, they have therefore headed back for the streets. On the streets when they rape and steal from innocent souls, it seems convenient to forget the role everybody has played in informing that kind of behaviour.

The Best Interests of the Child
Zimbabwe not only has a moral obligation to all its children, but a legal one as well. By signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Zimbabwe government committed itself to ensuring that its citizens uphold child rights. The CRC provides that a child has a right to be cared for by its family and if the family is unable or unwillingly to do so the state has an obligation to care for such a child. It is the same Convention that obligates all duty bearers to act in the best interests of the child. If the best interests of the child are to be the guiding principle in addressing the challenge of children living on the streets, Doreen Mukwena, a child rights practitioner prescribes the following steps:

An intervention oriented towards participatory family and community reintegration for both the child and family living on the streets.
Budgetary allocation for programmes aimed at building life skills for former children living on the streets.
Budgetary allocation for programmes targeting the strengthening of community based child care mechanisms so that children do not envy the streets.
Removal of the children from the streets would aim to assist the child to realise their full potential.
Mainstreaming of child rights in all planning and actions at family, community and national level.

Only when we have removed our children from the streets and assisted them in reorienting their lives towards being responsible citizens and made our homes chid friendly, can we proudly hold our heads high as a child rights conscious nation.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Zim Visit in Pictures

Trail of Hope-Zimbabwe visit

From the 13th to the 16th of August i visited Zimbabwe's capital city Harare together with a friend.The mission was to carry out an execise like we will be doing on the Trail of Hope and our chosen homes were Chinyaradzo and Upenyu Utsva Children Homes.All of them are situated in Highfields an old township west of the Capital City.

Well interesting is the fact that visited Upenyu Utsva just by accident in 2001 when i was in a UNICEF program that took us to Masiye Camp in Bulawayo and due to the death of one of the Ministers ,our trip was postponed by a day and we ended up sleeping at Upenyu Utsva,whoever might have had made that decision helped me to have a clear understanding of life in a children's home.Honestly i diod not sleep for the whole night as i heard one story after another of how the boys had ended up at the home.Another interestig fact is the Home[Upenyu Utsva] used to be a juvenile prison,but was later converted into an ophanage.However the tag seem to still remain upto this day ,as most of the infrastructure still in use dates back to 1962 when the institution was established.

But on my mission i needed to know more than just the priosn history.I wanted to know how the boys have been coping,i wanted to eat what they are eating and play with them all the games they play as well as watch with them the TV programmes they watch.How life is like at Upenyu Utsva,but most importantly dep down i knew i was going to adopt the home.So much may be written but the truth is,there is one man at the home ,who is referred to as father by the children,he told me something that will forever guide me in all that i do.He has been working with the institution since 1972 yes thats it 1972,since it was a juvenile institution then into transition to an ophanage.He knows no high living,but to me he said what matters to him are the children.He works for US$100 per month,but still he is there for the children when they need him.When we arrived at the ophanage he was coming from the Garden ,a self sustaining project that has helped the ophanage to weather the harsh economic climate that gripped the tiny beautiful country before the GNU government was formed.

I then had to visit where the boys sleep,as well as their toilets and bathrooms.If i say more i would be unfair,what i observed can be put into three simple words THEY NEED HELP.

Firstly the beds,blankets as well as their clothing are just but too old.Most of them were walking bare footed but what worried me was when we went to visit the bathrooms and toilets.THe facilities are rasty and old,with dirty water on the floor but still the children walk in and out of there with bare feet!I know its hard to do everything for them but something must be done to help them.I also wonder how many charities are in as much need as this particular one we visited?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trail of Hope is a 16 country ,three month motorbike journey through Africa and Europeto raise awareness on the plight of children around the world. The campaign’s goal is to activate the international community against deplorable conditions that millions of children endure daily. Conceptualized by Tendai Sean Joe, a former “street” child, Trailof Hope seeks to create a platform that highlights the desperate struggles our children face to survive against poverty, HIV/AIDS ,crime , addiction, war, human trafficking ,wars ,institutionalization and disease.

Partnering with different organizations ,corporations, foreign missions ,governments ,public figures ,professionals and individuals the campaign brings to the forefront the dire situation of those vulnerable ,as they try to access the basic human needs like adequate food, education, health care ,shelter and environments safe from traffickers , pedophiles ,criminals and other.

Using the power of motorbikes, film and photography to document the journey, theriders also plan to visit critical areas along the route to expand the general public’s knowledge of programs working to alleviate the obstacles vulnerable children face. HenceTRAIL OF HOPE can be broken down into[Trail of Goodwill][Trail of Inspiration][Trail of Humanity][Trail of Sustainability][Trail of Awareness][Trail of Smiles][Trail of Ubuntu][Trail of Peace]

SPIN Earth
Lars Russell
Africa Correspondent Coordinator
SPIN Earth
59 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, CA, 94108

Rob Cipriano
Founder & Chairman
IllumAlliance International Humanitarian Group LLC
Beyond Borders Internet TV


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