Street begging: a major cause of violence against children in Malawi

Nearly half of the world’s population consists of young people, but over 25% are below the age of fourteen¹. We say that these young people are the leaders of tomorrow and this is very true. But in some parts of the world they live in settings with very few chances to have their voices heard. Malawi is one of these places…

A story by Patuma

 

Family is a very important element to the life of each and every child. One’s behaviour and attitude towards the world is largely determined by how one is raised. It is therefore not surprising when people with a similar economic status respond differently towards certain ideologies. For instance, while some could be of the view that it is not good for a girl to wear trousers; for others the opposite might be better since a skirt exposes the legs.

it is a vicious circle

Almost every child has faith in what their family teaches them. In healthy situations, that is part of growing up with values and beliefs. In the streets of Malawi however, many parents are beggars, some of whom are blind and have disabilities.

According to a recent survey conducted by Malawi’s Ministry of Gender, there are 4,400 individuals begging in the streets of Malawi. Around 400 of whom are begging “out of an acute need” of genuine homelessness².

Because of their living situation, such people often fail to properly take care of their children and in turn these children also become beggars. It is a vicious circle, where some children spend their days with their parents who direct them in the streets. The remaining children beg on their own. The streets are their homes and what they know best.

they don’t complain because they don’t know better

For many children, begging in the streets is how they grew up. It is not an easy life but they don’t complain because they don’t know better and because there’s no one to complain to. Often enough young girls suffer sexual abuses in exchange for security, some income or affection. This is one of the ways they have found that somewhat supports them and their families. Young boys often turn to violence – using force as a means of intimidation to earn some living.  One wonders how the life of these children will develop when they grow up. Even if they try to speak out, there is no one to listen – child beggars are often unaware of the existence of child helplines and rarely have access to a phone.

What is even more worrisome is that these children don’t know about the importance of going to school or simply don’t have the chance to attend – worrying more about getting something to eat before the end of the day.

This vicious circle raises fears that there will be an increase in child criminality if children continue to beg in the streets, particularly attacking the vulnerable late at night. This may in turn lead to a criminal adulthood.

The rise of child pregnancies is another reason for concern – contributing to an already rapidly increasing population in Malawi and producing more future beggars.

The lack of education and poverty result in even fewer chances for these children to leave the streets. But could anything be done?

Hope starts with education

There is always hope and it starts with education. Going to school, attending skills workshops, learning about the importance of family planning – all of these are steps towards alleviating the burden of street begging children.

Informing street children about the existence of child helplines is an essential element too. Making them aware of the welcoming support they can always turn to anonymously is important in helping them begin to trust, share and find solutions for a better future.

Another suggestion is increasing the number of orphanages or safe houses. In Malawi, there is a dire need for homes where these children can find shelter and learn about the different skills they can develop and the different ways of becoming better citizens.

criminalising street beggars only increases their burden

Last but not least, the country could also decrease the number of street children through law enforcement. These children are often enticed to the streets through the attraction of receiving money. Law enforcement is necessary to maintain public order but also encourage those who are fit and able to return to work – a positive solution for the economy. Needlessly criminalising street beggars only increases their burdens.

It is very disappointing that up until now, no action has been taken in Malawi.

My country in particular and the world as a whole, really need to be serious if we want a hope to remove all children from the streets and provide them a good future. I believe with all of us working together, this is possible!