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Background and Purpose of Study Source the UN 
The eighties and nineties saw a growing global concern for the rights and welfare of children. This culminated in
the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20
November 1989. This was closely followed by the adoption of the Organisation of African Unity’s Charter on the
Rights and Welfare of the Child by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in Addis Ababa in 1990.
In line with this general concern for the rights and welfare of children in especially difficult circumstances, is
another growing international problem of the rising numbers of street children in urban areas, mostly within the
developing world. This has translated into the increasing number of governmental and non-governmental organisations throughout the world whose main activity is to help alleviate the plight of street children.
Street children are seen to lack the primary socialisation and modelling framework of the family that is thought to
foster healthy growth and development. As such, they are seen to be developmentally at risk.
Definition of Street Children
The most common definition of a street child or youth is “any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for
whom the street (in the broadest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become
her or his habitual abode and/or sources of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed
by responsible adults” (Inter-NGO, 1985). This definition was formulated by Inter-NGOs in Switzerland in 1983.
In this study the term “street children” is used to refer to children who work and/or sleep on the streets. Such
children may or may not necessarily be adequately supervised or directed by responsible adults and include the
two co-existing categories referred to by UNICEF as those “on the street” and those “of the street” (Agnelli, op.
cit., p. 34). Other researchers identified these two categories amongst different street children populations (e.g.
Dube et. al, 1996, Ennew, 1986; Scharf et al., 1986; Richter, 1988a). “Children of the street” are homeless
children who live and sleep on the streets in urban areas. They are totally on their own, living with other street
children or homeless adult street people. On the other hand, “children on the street” earn their living or beg for
money on the street and return home at night. They maintain contact with their families. This distinction is
important since “children on the street” have families and homes to go to at night, whereas “children of the street”
live on the streets and probably lack parental, emotional and psychological support normally found in parenting
Problems of Definition
While the distinction between children “on the street” and “of the street” has been useful, some overlaps and grey
areas still remain. Some children “of the street” may have been abandoned and rejected by their families while
others may have left their families due to prevailing circumstances. Muchini (1994) noted that in a “sense they
abandoned the family”. Other children may stray and wander the streets, becoming involved in street activities
with other children.
Muchini (1994) also notes that there are also “children of the street” who maintain links with family members
while others have totally severed family connections. Some “children of the street” may visit their mothers staying
with “step-fathers” once in a while or may visit other siblings and, return to their street “homes”. Muchini (op.
cit.) further observes that the degrees to which filial linkages are maintained also vary for different children. The
quality of contacts also differs. The same can be said of “children on the street”. Children classified as “on the
street” include those in the grey area, who sometimes sleep on the streets and sometimes sleep at home. This
category also includes those staying with distant relatives and those who stay with employers. Thus, categorising
street children into only two categories may cloud the continuity of the children connecting with their families.
Muchini (1994) noted the problems associated with the last part of the widely accepted definition of street children: “… and who are inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults”. He observed that this
part fails to acknowledge the role played by children in shaping their own destiny. This part reflects society’s
Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Adolescents In Zimbabwe 8990 Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Adolescents In Zimbabwe
A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe
perception of a child as someone who must live within boundaries delineated by adults. Muchini (op. cit.) suggested that it might be possible that more and more parents are unable to adequately protect, supervise or direct
and provide for their children. The result is that children assume some of the roles that were originally considered
parental roles. Already findings from Home-Based Care (HBC) for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAs)
programmes indicate that children and men are assuming care roles traditionally carried out by women.
The term “street children” and its various mutants such as “street kids”, “street boys”, “parking boys”, “carwashers”, “teenage beggars”, “street bums”, “children on their own”, and “mutibumba” refer to a complex phenomenon. The term stirs emotions and focuses on the “problem”. It is a problem whose manifestations are seated
in several causal factors.
Historical Background of the Street Children Phenomenon
Regardless of definition, the phenomenon of street children is not new and neither is it restricted to certain geographical areas (Connolly, 1990). The street urchin, the runaway, the street waifs and stray children were part of
the “urban landscape” during the process of industrialisation and urbanisation in post-war Europe (Agnelli, op.
cit.; Swart, 1986). This has also been the case in many populations that have undergone political, social or
economic upheaval.
The problem of street children in Zimbabwe may not be new as related by Grier (1996). Grier’s paper looks at the
street children in Zimbabwe from the 1920s to the fifties. This paper notes that native lads aged 10 to 14 were
attracted to towns, mines and other centres. Colonial officials were concerned with the way children survived on
the streets or made a living on the streets (Grier, 1996). Grier notes that many lads found wage employment in
urban areas as domestic servants and gardeners in white and black homes. In mining towns, the boys were hired
directly by mining companies to cook and clean for “senior” black workers in the company’s single sex compounds. Boys were also seen performing domestic services, including in some cases, sexual services, for “single”
black mine workers who lived in the huts they built for themselves in native locations adjacent to the mines (Grier,
op. cit.). However, the problem of children living and/or working on the streets of our urban areas appears to be a
recent phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Prior to Independence (1980) it was almost impossible for children to work in
the streets as vendors, car-washers, beggars, or parking boys as Municipal by-laws that restrict this, were brutally
enforced. With Independence, such enforcement of the restrictions became slack and unpredictable.
Purpose of Study
The objective of this study was to “compile, consolidate and validate available information” on street children “in
order to facilitate the development of a long-term national strategy aimed at promoting, protecting and fulfilling
their rights”. Thus, the report looks at the situation of street children in Zimbabwe and presents an assessment of
the problem. The report presents the causal factors, the effects of the problem of street children, the interventions
and responses currently being offered to street children, the emerging gaps and concludes with possible strategies
for intervening in the short- and long-terms.
Assessment of the Street Children Problem
Study Methodology
The study targeted street children in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru and Kadoma and involved interviewing a
sample of 260 street children in the five urban areas. One hundred and thirty-five (135) street children were
interviewed in Harare, 55 in Bulawayo, 27 in Mutare, 28 in Gweru and 12 in Kadoma. Their ages ranged from a
few months to 18 years and averaged 13 years. There were 220 males and 40 females.
Twelve child care workers, 10 males and 2 females, were interviewed. Focused group discussions for street
children involved 15 children in Bulawayo and 16 in Harare, while the adult focused group discussions consisted
of groups of 12. One adult focused group discussion took place in Bulawayo with 9 males and 3 females and a
second group in Harare with 7 males and 5 females.
The major tools used in the study were interview schedules designed to investigate the situation of street children
in Zimbabwe. There was an interview schedule for street children, child-care workers, focused group discussionOrphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Adolescents In Zimbabwe 91
A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe
guides for street adults and for street children.
All the research assistants were thoroughly trained in using the tools to interview in the mother tongue of the
interviewee, using translated versions in ChiShona and SiNdebele.
Contact with Street Children and Adults
The researcher was assisted by five research assistants (two were post-graduates, each with a Masters Degree in
the Social Sciences and three were third year (1) and second year (2) undergraduate university students). Contact
with the street children was made initially through staff and volunteers of organisations working with street children and then directly on the streets, in market places and at bus termini.
After the initial contacts facilitated by street child-care workers and volunteers, further contact was mainly through
snowballing where street children interviewed, referred their friends and colleagues for interviewing. Through
facilitation by child-care workers and volunteers, and some street children, the researchers had focused group
discussions with street adults in the city centre and Mbare for Harare, and at the railways and Kilani for Bulawayo.
Collection of Information on Street Children
The researcher or research assistant first informed the interviewee that they were commissioned by UNICEF to
learn more about the child’s life and why he/she was working on the street. The interviewer then asked for
permission to interview the child. The child was assured that what they would say would remain confidential and
no one, except the researcher and/or research assistants, would know who provided what information.
Most children agreed without further discussions but a significant number felt there had been too many studies
done on them without their seeing any benefits accruing to them. A good number “demanded” payment in cash for
spending time talking to the researchers. Children who consented were then interviewed and at the end they were
given $15.00 as a token of appreciation and compensation for time and earning opportunities lost while being
Methodological Issues
The street children and street child-worker interviews and focused group discussions with street children and
street adults were the sources of information about street children. The street children interviews were the major
sources of information that was triangulated with information from child-care workers, and focused group discussions with street children and street adults separately. It was through these interviews and focused group discussions, that biographical information, HIV/AIDS/STIs knowledge, attitudes and sexual behaviour, causal factors,
perception of street children’s situation and other relevant information about street children was obtained.
The study contacted 450 street children of which 260 provided complete data and became the sample upon which
the study is based. These 260 children were aged 18 years and below and had managed to respond to all questions
on the Child Interview. There was a huge reduction of the sample size from the large number of children contacted
for reasons given below.
Street children would dash away to attend to “clients/customers” to receive payment for guarding cars or sell
wares being vended. The researchers abandoned interviewing when children were high or drunk. The timeframe
for the study did not allow for interviewing these children at a later stage when they were sober.
The study was conducted during a time of political tension in Zimbabwe. There was a one-day job-stay-away
during the course of the fieldwork. All these affected the study as street children were found to be generally tense.
Street children in Mutare and Harare had been interviewed a few months prior to this study by some other researchers and were wary that people were interviewing them again without their having seen any concrete results
from these interviews. In Harare they reported to have received $50.00 from the researchers for participating. All
these factors could have affected the participation of the children in the research. More time would have been
required to build trust and a relationship with the children. However, going through street child-care workers
contributed to overcoming this hurdle.92 Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Adolescents In Zimbabwe
A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe
Data Analysis
Information obtained through the street child interviews was coded and analysed. The Statistical Package for
Social Scientists 8.0 (SPSS 8.0) was used in generating frequency distributions, cross-tabulations and some factor
Research Findings
Categories of Street Children
The majority (56.9%) of the 260 street children interviewed were children “of the street”, who worked and slept on
the streets. Thirty-one percent (31.4%) of the street children had homes to go to at night. Most were staying with
at least one biological parent while others were staying with members of the extended family. The 31.4% of
children “on the street” worked on the streets and slept at home. Nearly 12 percent (11.8%) were children who
slept both on the streets and at their homes (Table 1).
The last group represents the grey area between the two categories of children “on and of” the street. This group
represented children who were likely to become children “of the street” should home conditions deteriorate.

Full Text

A Study on Street Children in Zimbabwe

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