Zambia’s Voiceless Children

Just a stone’s throw away from the posh Manda Hill Shopping Mall in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, little kids mill around traffic lights sniffing glue and pestering motorists and pedestrians, alike, for money, food and whatever else they can scrounge.

Many of the kids, dressed in filthy rags, are regarded as a menace to society due to their anti-social behaviour. Near the traffic lights a big poster warns members of the public not to give money or food to the children, euphemistically referred to as ‘street kids’.

According to the poster, giving money or food only causes the children to remain on the street. Put in other words, the social menace that many of the nouveau rich in this leafy and suburban area fear will continue to grow.

Many of the so-called street kids are part of a generation of children in Zambia that is growing up without parental care, support or guidance. The children are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and disease.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are approximately1,250,000 orphans in Zambia – that is, one in every four Zambian children – with about 50% under nine years of age.

Orphans are defined as children who have lost one or both parents.The extended family network, a traditional safety net for orphaned children, is breaking apart due to the enormity of the HIV crisis throughout the country.

Additionally, the huge number of orphaned children is overwhelming national health, social welfare and education systems in Zambia, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Most of the children face a bleak future, without parents to care for them and little, if any, assistance offered by the government.

The children are often traumatized by the death of parents, stigmatized through association with HIV and often thrown into desperate poverty by the loss of bread-winners. They live under enormous pressure and suffer depression and other psychological problems.

Young girls, in particular, are the first to be denied educational opportunities in favour of boys, and are forced into early marriages with older men, which puts them at higher risk of HIV infection.

Children, both girls and boys, turn to the streets in search of a better life but the reality that confronts them can only be described as grim. Street life creates extreme vulnerability to violence, exploitative and hazardous labour, sexwork and trafficking.

In fact, internal trafficking of children has become rampant in Zambia. Sadly, there is little to no awareness of this social malaise.

Nothing short of a Herculean effort is required to help the growing legion of orphans in Zambia to lead normal lives. A holistic approach which includes provisions for nutrition, health and cognitive development, and educational and psychosocial support is required to effectively respond to the orphan crisis in the country.

Addressing these basic needs at an early age would give orphaned children a
healthy start and more hopeful future.

Strengthening family systems and community care mechanisms is fundamental to this holistic approach because putting children into institutional homes can have a devastating effect ontheir self worth and identity.

Furthermore, there needs to be a concerted effort to keep
children in school because it is one recognized shelter that can help the children to discover their own potential.

The government must protect the children of Zambia with improved institutional, legal and social conditions, hopefully bringing an end the need to ‘protect’ motorists from ‘street kids’ attraffic lights.

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  • invalid-0

    There is an ever increasing number of such writers who point out the obvious, lament about street children writing from their plush offices that some thing should be done, but never come out with a solution. I am sick with these pseudo sympathizers and worthless writers.

  • masimba-biriwasha

    Dear Anonymous,

    I am as angry as you are about the situation of children, not only in Zambia, but in many parts of the world. And will be happy to join hands with anyone that feels stirred and angry about the ground reality to something unique and different for the children. But please don't shoot the messengers. As writers, we will write about the problem for as long as it exists.Are you more content that no-one brings the issue to public light? I urge you to become angry as I am – not to shoot the messenger – but to join hands to do something.

    Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

    – Martin Luther King Jr.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for writing this article. I’ve been to Zambia twice on mission teams…and have eaten at restaurants in the Manda Hill Shopping Center while visiting there. I have sat in buses while children stood outside my window, begging for something…anything…even the half-empty bottle of Coke on my lap. It’s heartbreaking NOT to give them anything, knowing that whatever they DO get is often wrestled from them by an older child who has intimidated them into peddling. So what can we offer that will be better? That will work toward a solution? The problem is so monstrous that most of us are paralyzed to inaction. There are some courageous organizations trying very hard to reach orphans and caregivers with the resources and support they need. If “Anonymous” wants to know what can be done, he/she (and all of us) could research such organizations and find out how we can contribute to their ministries. How can we support those who are already in-country and know the complexities of the issues to be more effective and reach more kids? The role of the writer is to spread awareness and get people to ask questions — to stir up the passion to see lives changed. Thanks for taking up the cause of those kids. They’re so precious and have so little hope.

  • invalid-0

    Masimba – thanks for raising awareness of this issue. I too have visited Zambia in connection with various development projects and have been to the same shopping centre – on foot, passing the very same desperate children. “Anonymous” could help by getting involved with UNICEF, World Vision, TearFund or any of the many, many charities working in Zambia to alleviate the suffering of these children and to (eventually) prevent the root causes. Nothing can be solved instantly but that’s no excuse to do nothing! One individual’s help may be only a “drop in the ocean” but many drops will create a flood of help……