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Getting children out of bondage

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Not long ago, Madalitso Chisale (not her real name) used to go to the streets of Lilongwe to beg whenever she wanted to make ends meet. She would happily join the ranks and file of the street and eke out a precarious living.

But she would face some challenges, she admits.

“Sometimes, I would be insulted by those I expected to assist me. Sometimes, I would go home empty-handed,” she recalls.

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At 10, Madalitso really broke the proverbial “glass ceiling”, hitting a male dominated arena.

Of course, boys reigned supreme on and off the streets. And perils facing Madalitso were insurmountable.

But, she says, she had no choice. Circumstances forced her to work in intolerable conditions to sustain a family of four— herself, a sister, brother and mother.

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Their father, who was the breadwinner, died some time back. And the demise meant trouble for the Area 36 family.

Driven to despair, the little girl quit school and thus connected herself to the street. But, here, her future was completely doomed.

She is not the only one.

William, 14, is another case. His life was a nightmare. Every day, he would loiter around Chinsapo Market, ask for handouts and buy food for himself and five siblings he was looking after.

At night, he would sleep rough. He led such a miserable life from 2010 to 2014.

Tales such as Madalitso and William’s are commonplace.

Statics show that over 100 million children around the world are living and working on the streets, according to Unicef.

While some still have links with their families, others do not—poverty and abuse drives them away. And these children survive through begging, petty crime or work in the informal economy. They sleep by the roadside, in doorways, parks or abandoned buildings.

Some sell their bodies. And drug use is said to be high among these street connected children, according to Unicef.

Today, interestingly, the two tell a different story, thanks to the intervention of Tikondane Care for Children On/Off the Streets (TCCS).

TCCS, a faith-based organisation run by the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa under the Archdiocese of Lilongwe, redeemed Madalitso and William from vile streets and gave them a second chance in life.

Both are now schooling and are eyeing a brilliant future.

And, hundreds of other children are being offered a new lease of life, admits Sister Anna Massawe, the Project Coordinator.

From 1997 to date, Tikondane, as it is fondly called, has turned around lives of many neglected and street-connected children. Psychosocial support—both to individuals and groups— remains a key component in shaping the lives of the redeemed children.

Also, the “redeemed” are sheltered in a transit place where they are listened to, nursed, fed and clothed. Above all, they are skillfully groomed for reintegration.

Reintegration is one of TCCS’s core objectives. According to Massawe, children are reintegrated into society and, so far, 83 percent of children who were at the charity’s transit shelter have settled down in society.

But there is a challenge. Some children, especially “old-timers”, resist change. Drug and alcohol abuse often impact on discussions with the “old-timers”, laments Massawe.

And women who live on the streets with their children also give TCCS a cold shoulder. They dismiss it as a stumbling block to their source of income.

However, Tikondane is not an all-time promised land. Of course, it is not a permanent place for the “redeemed” children.

“Ours is a transit shelter and we often act as mediator between a child and a parent or guardian. We facilitate talks between the two sides, map the way forward, and take in only those who we feel are in dire straits,” Massawe says.

Some of these redeemed children are victims of child trafficking, claims Bridget Chetama, a social worker at Tikondane.

She believes that most of these children are trafficked, typically from rural to urban settings, under the lure of good jobs.

“Unfortunately, these children end up being subjected to deplorable work conditions. Some escape from their traffickers and eventually end up on the streets.

“The government, through the police, links these children with TCCS for psychosocial support and shelter,” Chetama says.

It is not only those who are trafficked internally that Tikondane offers help to. Women, who are trafficked transnationally into prostitution, and are stranded overseas, also find some solace.

Recently, Malawian women who were trafficked to Kuwait— as well as others who were intercepted in Kenya en route to Saudi Arabia— got TCCS’s helping hand.

Indeed, the victims were psychologically assisted to overcome their trauma.

Malawi Police Service (MPS), however, is issuing a stern warning.

“People must not be easily carried away by strangers who visit their home villages with a litany of promises of decent life elsewhere,” says Alexander Ngwala, a Child Protection Coordinator for MPS.

“Child trafficking largely stems from child neglect, which is common in our societies. Once you neglect your child, you create a fertile ground for traffickers who often take advantage of your desperation and misery,” Ngwala adds.

He further calls on Malawian parents and guardians to stop treating children as objects, but rather as subjects whose interests should be taken to heart.

“This way, we can stop child trafficking. We need to join hands in reporting suspicious individuals who engage in child trafficking,” he says.

Such action, perhaps, may lead to the interception of a truck that is ferrying children to places unknown— somewhere in the country and the world at large.

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