Maritzburg Sun accompanied NGO Youth for Christ (YFC) recently on the streets of Pietermaritzburg.
There’s a small fire burning and several children, no older than 15 years old, are cuddled by it, squatting on pieces of cardboard and sharing a meager meal of a mielie cob and boiled eggs. Their tiny hands are almost invisible as they extend their sleeves over their wrists to resemble gloves while passing around an Inkomazi Maas container filled with inebriants.
These children are part of a growing number who prefer to become “street kids” as the environment at home is as tough as being on the street.
Sharing shocking statistics, YFC/KZN Khayalethu Programme Co-ordinator, Simphiwe Sithole, said there was a new street child every day in Pietermaritzburg and other cities.
“Every day, a child decides that they can survive on the street as their life at home, according to them, is difficult. One of the problems that are encouraging children to be on the street is that they can earn money by begging. Thursdays, for example, in the northern suburbs, is still known as beggar’s day. These children know that, at least once a week, they are guaranteed to get enough money to buy a loaf of bread and something to drink. We have also found that some parents, who have fallen on desperate times themselves, are sending their children out on the streets to beg rather than sending them to school,” said Sithole.
The YFC has been in existence since 1985 and one of their main objectives is to rehabilitate children and to get them back to living with their families. One of the factors that hampers their process is peer pressure, wanting to go back to the streets or their families no longer wanting them as they have become too accustomed to life on the street and stealing from their families to support the addictions they picked up.
Fourteen- year-old, Imbali Mnwabe, ran away from home as she could not continue with her drug addiction because of family disapproval.
“I left home when I was nine-years-old. I started smoking drugs with my friends back home. I left home as a result and I go home every now and then. My family no longer wants me to come home as I steal to support my smoking habit of weed and glue,” she said.
Phineas Mthethwa, 32, has been living on the streets for 25 years. The streets are his home – he has a wife who has been living on the streets since she was 12-years-old and is expecting her second child.
“I left home at a very young age. I don’t know why, I just left. Over the years I have survived by doing odd jobs. For my wife, she will go back to her home to have the child and we will try to get help to raise the child,” he said.
Youth for Christ is appealing to the public to assist them rehabilitate street children. YFC/KZN Marketing and Communications Intern, Sonti Magota, said they did not want the public to hand out money to street children
“A few years ago, people had stickers on their cars that they purchased. The funds were used to buy food for the children and they knew not to bother the people in the cars with those stickers. It is best to stop handing out money at robots; rather buy a loaf of bread and hand out one slice at a time as opposed to a whole loaf as they might sell the whole loaf. They become comfortable on the street when they realise there is a certain individual who will give them money or food,” said Magota
Sithole said the YFC has six community centers that aid children from the street. These centres are Mountain Rise Community Centre, Community Centre in Raisethorpe near the BP Garage, Mason’s Community Centre, Swapo Community Centre, the CBD Community Centre and Elandskop Kwa Mafumze Community Centre.
“We want the community to be involved in their lives as when children have to live in dilapidated homes, without food and care then they realize that once they can survive one day on the streets, they don’t want to come home,” said Sithole
Real names not used.