Lilongwe, May 24, 2017: One lazy Saturday afternoon, a group of journalists from around Lilongwe teamed up at their usual meeting point, the Mimoza African bar at Game complex.
Here again was yet another opportunity for comrades-in-the-mighty pen to interact and exchange friendly banter as the English premiership games were gracing the huge high definition television sets that the joint is known for.
However, as the day wore on and the fun was hitting its epitome, there was to be an unexpected dent on the catalogue of events on the day. One member within the gathering received a call from another colleague.
He informed the group that Mallick Mnela of Zodiak Broadcasting Station is at the car park and wants to have a quick work related exchange with him. He quickly jumped off from where he was perched with an intention of rejoining the fun in the quickest time possible.
Things were to turn sour moments later when the friend rushed back to where we were seated to inform us that Mnela was being roughed up by a group of street kids and we should go down to rescue him from the wrath of the young mob.
“I saw some innocent looking kids involved in a brawl, I approached them to ask what was going on. The elder one, between the two, told me the younger one had eaten his food which he had bought valued at MK500.00. I produced a MK1000 note and gave it to the younger one to quell the quarrel,” Mnela recounted.
“As I walked away I noted that the older tried to snatch the money from his friend and a fight ensued between them. Passers-by intervened and rescued the younger one.
“While walking to my car, a group of four kids descended on me led by the older between the two who were involved in the fight earlier on. They hit me hard with a steel bar on the head before I could make out what was going on. I tussled with them until my friends sprinted to the scene,” he said.
With the help of the friends, Mnela was finally rescued from the street ‘wolves’ and the older was nabbed and taken to a police unit within the game complex shopping mall. Later, we learnt that the boy is a perennial offender on the streets.
Such is the terror that these kids pose in and around the streets of our towns and cities across the country. And Mnela’s ordeal is not an isolated case.
Many people, especially women, have fallen prey to attacks by street kids. Some have been at the receiving of this terror for the simply responding ‘negatively’ to their requests for monetary assistance.
When you are deemed rude, they pounce on you without any flicker of mercy and in the evening hours, the gangs are even more deadly and hungrier than a lion that has gone so many days without tasting the flesh of prey.
According to records from the Child Protection Unit at Lilongwe Police Station, in the last quarter of 2017 one hundred-thirty-five children were arrested, four of them being girls and 131 boys. Out of these, only 35 children have been taken to court and 107 have been diverted at police level.
Diversion is a programme which is also called a chance for change in which the children are offered a 12 week long reformatory training.
During a similar period last year, a total of 122 children were arrested, with 22 of them taken to court and 88 children being diverted. The variations in the two sets of figures indicate that there has been a sharp increase in the occurrence of such acts in 2016 as compared to the previous year. This is a growing worry.
Lilongwe Police Station publicist Kingsley Dandaula said complaints from people being attacked by these children are not new at their office and they have in the past managed to arrest some culprits.
“We once received continued complaints of a certain gang of these children who were causing problems in many areas around the central business district. We did our patrols and we apprehended them and were remanded at Maula Prison,” said Dandaula.
In Lilongwe, these kids have found fertile grounds around Lilongwe Bridge, along the Devil Street, Tsoka Flea Market and around the Shoprite area where people have been beaten or others have had their possessions like phones snatched.
“The problem is that many people do not report these cases when attacked. So the Police take it as if everything is normal and this has made it very difficult for us bring this trend to a stop,” said Dandaula.
Is there any hope?
Chisomo Children’s Club is one organisation which works with children who operate on the street in trying to reintegrate them back to their families while also offering temporary shelter to the children at their drop-in centres.
Programme Manager for the Organisation Clement Maluwa said the best way to deal with the problem is to address the pull and push factors of the street-connected-life which revolves around poverty.
“Most of these children find themselves in the street to survive. The best we can do is to take them back to their families and provide alternative livelihoods for them to support their families,” said
Maluwa who believes that with a good plan, the problem could be over within five years.
According to estimates from the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, over 5000 children are living in the streets in the country but they say it is becoming increasingly hard to quantify their numbers as a section of them are constantly leaving and coming back considering the problems they face in their homes.
Public Relations Officer for the ministry Lucy Bandazi said the ministry is focusing and promoting interventions that prevent children from going in the streets while at the same time collaborating with the police in crime prevention.
“We are using the case management approach, which entails that the children are followed up to know their homes and establish reasons they are found on the streets. Once the cause has been established, the ministry will then intervene to ensure that the root problem is dealt with,” said Bandazi.