One thing I do know is that by allowing children to live on the streets, we are allowing them to forfeit each and every last right they have, under Chapter 2, Section 28 of the constitution (Bill of Rights: Children). Here is a breakdown for those of you that are not familiar with the rights of South African children:
28 (1) Every child has the right:
(a) to a name and a nationality from birth;
Yet once these children go and make their homes on the streets, we as society give them a new, generic name of “street children”. We often do not see them as individuals, but clump them in a mass grouping, labeling them with their new name: “street kid”.
(b) to family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment;
Though children often make a “new” family on the streets, it is far from the safe and healthy “family or parental care” that the Constitution refers to. Many of the children come into relationships with people who “look after them” in exchange for money, sex, labour, etc.
(c) to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;
Children living on the streets do not eat healthy, regular meals; many of their meals come from rubbish bins. They do not live under a permanent shelter, and are exposed to the elements of whatever the weather may be on any given day in Cape Town. They often only visit the hospital in emergency situations, if then, and often they are not mature enough to follow up on medication and treatment; many illnesses that could be prevented or properly treated (e.g. Tuberculosis, STD’s, HIV, etc.) are left undiscovered until they are at a drastic state. Though many of the children make use of various NGO’s and programs offered, most of them have little to no contact with “social services”.
(d) to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation;
Maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation are factors a child living on the streets lives under each and every day of his or her life! And this is not only from fellow “street people”, but from society as a whole!
(e) to be protected from exploitative labour practices;
Children on the streets perform all sorts of exploitive labour practices; from selling themselves to pedophiles, to doing odd jobs for mere cents! Some of the younger children are often sent out by older, not-so-cute-anymore youth to beg for money, break into cars or houses, and/or rob people.
(f) not to be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that:
i. are inappropriate for a person of the child’s age; or
ii. place at risk the child’s well-being, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development;
There are very few people that would argue the point that a child having sex with a 50-year-old man for money is “appropriate” work for that child’s age. At the same time, street life negatively impacts the child’s well-being, education, physical and mental health and spiritual, moral and social development each and every day they spend on the streets!
(g) not to be detained except as a measure of last resort, in which case, in addition to the rights a child enjoys under sections 12 and 35 [relating to freedom and security of the person and rights of arrested, detained and accused persons], the child may be detained only for the shortest appropriate period of time, and the right to be:
i. kept separately from detained persons over the age of 18 years; and
ii. treated in a manner and kept in conditions that take account of the child’s age;
Detainment is rarely the case of “last resort” when it comes to the children living on the streets; quite the opposite. On top of that, due to backlog, improper book keeping, and criminal records only being on a computerized system for the past few years, many children are being locked up for crimes committed years ago; and this “tool” is being used to “clear the streets”.
(h) to have a legal practitioner assigned to the child by the state, and at state expense, in civil proceedings affecting the child if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and
This is one right that the children usually are able to obtain. However, overworked “legal practitioners” and court social workers often lead to poor service delivery. On top of that, many children picked up for various crimes will often be detained for months on end, visiting court about once a month, “awaiting trial”. This is due to slow investigations, missing evidence, witnesses and complainants that do not appear, and simply a leisurely moving juvenile “justice” system.
(i). not to be used directly in armed conflict, and to be protected in times of armed conflict.
Armed conflict is a consistent and regular part of street life. Even now, whilst writing this blog, I just got a reverse charge call from a kid who is laying in Groote Schuur Hospital because he was “stabbed by a Nigerian right near his private parts”. In his words, “I still can’t walk. I have been here for two weeks. They cut me open more and had to fix things on my inside, right next to my private parts. I have a lot of stitches and it is very sore!”.
28 (2) A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.
By allowing a child to live on the streets in the first place, we obviously do not have his or her best interests in mind! Unfortunately, as we move closer to 2010, many initiatives working to “clean up the streets” have the best interest of tourism and business in mind; the children are a nuisance, they are in the way, and they have to be “cleared out”.
Children do not always know what is best for them. They are not always capable or mature enough to make decisions; especially ones that will literally shape and mold their lives for the good or bad. They have to be guided, loved, taught, steered in the right direction and protected. It is our job, as adults in society, to insure that our children live in the fullness of their rights, liberties and freedoms that the Constitution sets out for them; to teach them that those things are more than just words on a piece of paper! I hold on to the hope that we can reclaim these rights on behalf of our children. Otherwise the Constitution that I bought today, and will be taking with me on the streets, can be used for other purposes during my stay on the streets (see blog title)!