A closer look at Street Children in Zambia

Written By Mercy Chisanga

Currently, the prevalence of street children is a huge problem both in rural and urban areas of Zambia. There are various factors that are thought to have contributed to this problem, for example, extreme poverty levels in the country which has spiraled in the past 10-15 years. About 70% of the Zambian population live below poverty line (Central Statistical Office, 1996). We have seen the number of street children growing at the fast rate.  The study conducted by Tacon in 1991 ascertained that the number of street children in Zambia was about 35,000 and out of these children 7,750 were in Lusaka alone. Furthermore, in the year 2000, the number of street children went up to 75,000 and out of this figure 52,000 children were between the age of 6-14 years and 23,000 children between 15-18 years of age respectively.

Seventy-one percent (71%) of this total, are males and 29.3% are females (Lungwangwa & Mucuang’i, 1960). Zambia has seen the number of street children almost doubled in the 1990s. According to National research conducted in 1991 and 2004 projected the number of street children in Zambia to be approximately 35000 and 75000 (Tacon and Lungwangwa 1991; Zambian Ministry of Sport, Youth and Child Development 2004). This signifies an increase of nearly 0.9% to 1.6% of Zambian children living on the street. One could argue if this was the case more than twenty years ago how many children do we have on our streets in 2017? Currently according to UNICEF Zambia has 1.2 million street children, 800,000 are affected by HIV/AIDS and 12% of children the age of 5 and 12 are working.


The fast-growing population of street children in recent years has been attributed mainly to high levels of unemployment, poverty in both rural and urban areas, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.   Furthermore, the research conducted by (Sampa, 1996; Tacon, 1991; Lungwangwa & Mucuang’i, 1996) on street children in Zambia also acknowledged that socio-economic factors such as unemployment, big families, and high inflation rates have contributed to high levels of street children in Zambia. This has forced children from underprivileged families to rely on streets to survive.  Some of these children are forced to go on the streets to work so that they could contribute to the upkeep of their poverty-stricken homes. While other children are being duty-bound to go on the streets because of parental abuse and lack of social services. Children from abusive homes at least have homes to go back to, Others call the streets their home. It is very sad and very shameful.

As the proverb goes it takes the whole village to raise up a child. If this is the case, why are we experiencing a high level of street children in Zambia?  where is the village that is supposed to look after our children? The government has failed big time to look after its own people. The government, NGO, and families are not doing enough to avert the problem of street children in Zambia. Above all Currently Zambian government does not have a specific policy to deal with street children and the already struggling families.  Children from poverty-stricken and underprivileged families are more likely to be forced on the street as the mode of survival.

In Africa, the extended family dynamic has been known to be the social security system or our social safety net. We are responsible as extended families to protect the vulnerable, looking after the underprivileged and passing on to the traditional social values and education. Traditional societies encompass a huge network of individuals spreading through fluctuating relationships from generation to generation which includes reciprocal responsibility (Foster,2000). In other words, African communities or families, we have the responsibility to take of our own from time in memorial. However, over the years we have seen both our nuclear and extended family dynamic disappearing before our own eyes. We have seen the predisposition of one for himself God for us all.

Why is our Zambian family dynamics changed so much? What are some of the contributing factors that that has allowed us Zambians to develop that uncaring attitude towards underprivileged children?  Zambian people have lost their cultural values and identity because of emulating or adopting western civilization, therefore families have developed the tendency of getting rid of extended families which used to be our safety in adopting orphaned children (Shimwangala, 1999; Times of Zambia, 1999; Nzima, 1993). It has been established that out of 4.1million Zambian children under the age 18 years, 64% are known to have lost their fathers, 22% their mothers and 14% both parents (Mulenga,1993). This figure is very disturbing.

The future of any nation depends on our children, but this is not the case in Zambia. Child development signifies the period of physical, cognitive and social evolution that happens in children. This development starts at birth and continues through early adulthood. It has been ascertained by various scientific evidence that early years of child’s life are significant in the development of intelligence, personality, and social behaviors. Therefore, UNICEF Zambia Fact Sheets highlighted that investing in early childhood development would provide better and high level of enrolment, retention, attainment, and completion of primary school education.  However, the Zambian government does not recognize this fact, not until the government understands and appreciate this fact we are heading to even a bigger crisis.

Therefore Politian should understand that it is their moral obligation to pass legislation and implement them to protect our children. Early years education should be part of our education system and free for all children from three years old. If the government could invest and make it clear that all three old should have access to free early years education maybe just maybe this might reduce the number of street children.  From my point of view, our Politicians are fully aware of the importance of early education that why they send their children to private schools were early years is being taught. Hence leaving struggling families without support.

It is very shameful and very disturbing in this modern day and age to see young children as young as six years old on the street asking for food. Where are social services to protect these innocent children? People are boosting development in Zambia when the government is failing to protect the most vulnerable individuals in society. The government is unable to invest in social infrastructures, such as the educational system more specifically early childhood education and health.

In conclusion, the Zambian government no clear social policies or proper understanding of the phenomenon of street children and how to solve these problems.  It is very important for our Politician to have policies and procedure in place to successfully intervene at improving the challenges by street children in Zambia. It is also vital to have background knowledge and appreciate the characteristics, causes and the level of the problem. It is also imperative to recognize the community dynamics where the problem is happening (Aptekar,1988)



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