Public or political will is non-existent to tackle DRC's epidemic of street children, says Mugisho Theophile from COFAPRI
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is believed to be one of the most beautiful and richest countries in the world.
However, its children are still errant due to lack of social support. Street children could become pillars of a nation if they were offered a chance for education.
Such children are becoming numerous in the DRC due to several factors. One of them remains the lack of social and political interest to protect them as the future pillars for the national development.
The DRC children who live and work on the streets, outside of the care and protection of their parents, are a relatively new phenomenon in the DRC, as is the situation in many sub-Saharan African countries.
But I believe that we cannot accept the rise in the numbers of street children throughout the DRC. It is our duty to denounce this, although the situation has worsened.
In the DRC, city and government authorities have failed to tackle the increasing prevalence of street children. There are almost 250,000 street boys and girls in DR Congo; and Kinshasa – the capital city - alone counts 70,000 of them.
How can the affluent people in DRC's towns just watch these street children roaming up and down the streets of cities and do nothing because they are not their own children?
Any parent should consider these children as their own, even if just to maintain social stability.
And the government, who have the means but ultimately fail to find a durable answer to the dilemma of street children in the country, lack a willingness to help.
Street children are left to their own fate
What we note today here in the DRC is that if you are moving along the streets of majority cities and the suburb roads, there is an incredible, increasing scene of errant children.
These children are actually destitute and left to the fate of their lives.
Truly speaking, these delinquents freely roam the streets, appealing to any sympathizer to come to their help – which means that they are begging to make a living.
I am certain the reason for this is that many of them have been victims of the political and social environment of their respective communities over periods of time.
In other words, the above belief conveys the idea that such children have become a bizarre consequence of situation in which they are today – and which engulfed their fair environment.
Considering all the above, it would be true to state that street children have become destitute in the real sense of the word, as they have no shelter on their heads and have no one to provide them with plates of food for survival.
In the very recent times, the press of one country reported in one of the cities where a women's forum reported that there was an attempt to persuade the reluctant children to abandon the habit and go home.
However, the question which lingers here remains that of knowing whether these children have a home where they will go back to.
Such a situation is a microcosm of society around the children on the street, as this depicts how some leaders are good speakers – but oftentimes, they fail to implement what they said, which is a great failure indeed. At the moment, to the concerned authorities and the powers that be, this scenario is a disaster waiting to explode.
These street children are dangerously coming to understand that life is characterized by living on the streets, eating from garbage heaps, and loitering around day after day. They will take this to be the norm of real life.
What is the DRC waiting for?
Once more questions come to my mind: what is the real future of such children and their communities and the country itself in general?
How will these unfortunate children be involved when they are not baked at all because today prepares tomorrow?
Since these children are not getting a needed and constructive education, and that the latter makes a prerequisite for their fair participation in national issues, they will become for sure left to vagaries and hazards of life.
Without a doubt, such children need a place to call home and education – lest they become a precursor to insecurity in their respective cities.
This should be a major preoccupation of the central government: to take care of the future of these children so that they too can take care of the future of their communities and the country in general.
This implies that not waiting for the number of street children to increase would be a right way to address this issue countrywide. The DRC should not wait for the number of street children to increase before they become aware of that there is a serious and alarming problem in their backyard.
This is to say that once a portion of a population cannot achieve or acquire what it needs, this immediately leads to it to find a way of manifesting the problem.
As an illustration, in almost all the DRC cities, the presence of these abandoned children sounds heavy.
Street children grow into hardened adults
In Kinshasa, Bukavu, Goma, Lubumbashi, etc. loose children have now grown into street adults hardened by the conditions they went through since they were very young children. They steal and rob at the nose and the sight of the police and this goes with impunity. That is life.
They are given different names such as mayibobo, shege or tsheil, often used in reference to girls who also engage in street prostitution.
It should be remembered that it is only since the mid-1990s that DRC street children have been known as Shegue – the latter being derived from the name Che Guevara, in reference to the independent spirit and toughness of street youth. Actually, this term that was popularized by Congolese musician Papa Wemba in his song entitled “Kokokorobo”, and has largely replaced previous names used to refer to street children in the DRC.
One can also find that some street men and women, having grown up on the streets, are having children of their own, raising a second generation, and in some cities – like Kinshasa, sometimes a third generation of children who know nothing of life but the streets.
This, as you can note, makes a great threat to society in the long run. This is mostly due to the declining of the DRC economy that has coupled with a growth of illiterate and even jobless people.
As school has become unaffordable for some parents in the DRC – and again this is due to lack of employment, children do not hesitate to go and make their lives on the streets. So they become involved in banditry, the sexual industry, and drug addiction. The sex industry will pull behind it a lot of troubles like STDs and HIV/AIDS, and also undesirable pregnancies that are often forcibly aborted as the single mother can’t afford to feed the child alone.
Such abortions often culminate into the death of the mother, and sometimes both mother and kid, because it was done in insane conditions.
Coming to grips with the situation
The police and country are coming to grips with the hardship to date. As a matter of fact, a pedestrian’s security in some cities and streets of the DRC is not guaranteed at all, may it be day or night, and no matter the place where you are.
However, this is not the case in all cities of the DRC.
In some areas which host VIPs, including political and high-ranked military, this fact is inexistent. Such places should be thankful as they are almost safe – although no one is certain how long they will remain free of street children.
I love to read the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, and in one of his great novels Things Fall Apart, he notes that "When you see a toad moving out in broad daylight you know that there is something after its life."
This, in fact, reflects that the presence of these children on the DRC streets could be a serious issue of utmost importance, with the intention that we do not treat the symptoms, but look back at the cause of this influx lately and see how to hold the bull by its horns.
This is the angle in which the problem of street children in the DRC must be addressed. Some cities, particularly the newest ones, seem to be peaceful today because the street children are still children. Today they are begging, practically requesting their donors to willingly handover the loose change in their possession.
But when the common sense of nuisance develops, they may use practical vigor and force, and then things will fall apart, which will put the police and all the dwellers to the test.
We all know the consequences of this action, when someone coerces you into parting with what is legally yours. Should we believe that crooked elements in society always wait for wrong excuses?
The UN has always discouraged the use of child soldiers, but the ears of dissenters never listen to this.
This is what is happening in some African countries today, and the DRC has not been an exception following the consecutive wars it has been experiencing for more than a decade.
In DR Congo, leaders of political parties have enlisted street children to create public disorder in mass demonstrations. In many cases, the security forces have responded to these protests with excessive use of force, leading to the death and injury of dozens of these street children.
One may think that leaders let these children remain on street the so that when wars occur, they may use these children as their shields and combatants. Such a rogue charlatan who is of course, fond of war, will not hesitate to seize that opportunity to recruit in his ranks these street children and use them to cause havoc and even mayhem.
This often occurs with boy street children.
It seems the world we are living today has lost feelings, love toward some categories of children; missing parental love and care pushes them into this worst life case scenarios. These children do not need tutorials about hard life: they have lived it.
So they will be a target by the opportunists like war lords, child traffickers, child sexual abusers, etc. For girls, as they are not fit to enroll into militia, they will be sexually exploited.
They have to choose between being killed or serve as sex objects for older combatants.
As these children have been discouraged by life, they have no other choice as to abide to the request. Involving young girls into sexual industry instead of educating or helping them to get out of such a horrendous situation should be severely sanctioned by the law, at national and international level. But this has always failed – for reasons you and me still ignore. In the country like the DRC where justice is extremely dormant, children will always be victims of wars and bad social behavior.
Our present crisis is salavageable
This actually depicts a very present crisis in the DRC. The war that has recently crippled our the DRC has brought along with itself, a trail of tragedies.
Children became orphans, families grew poorer than ever, families were broken, insecurity, and displaced many populations inside the country.
The entire DRC has yet to recover from this awful situation, a real disaster. However, looking at the problem only from such an angle would be incomplete in itself. This because this state of things has also connections with spirituality, and of course has spiritual implications.
Furthermore, to blame – as is usually the case, men who claim themselves to be pastors of existing revival churches and whose behavior is in total contradiction to Biblical teaching, are often considered as going - or better, preaching outside the target.
In my understanding, the situation can still be saved.
The DRC government should believe that the future of this country can’t achieve if children are not offered a solid and constructive education.
To do so, the DRC government should inject in their budget the destitute – even if donors will be needed for intervention, and so, give life and hope to this dreadful group to avert a future built on catastrophe.
It has been found that the majority of the children on the DRC street are barely 10 years of age, and are not all ready and able for making a living for themselves. It is better to beat the iron when it is still hot !
But who will beat it?
It’s you and me and COFAPRI of course, each in our own way, with the objective of building a safe society for children.