The Mail & Guardian report “Rounded up and shipped out” (22/01/2010, p. 4) by Niren Tolsi stands out for the way it highlights children’s rights in the midst of the World Cup fever. The report gives a voice to street children, who are rarely made visible in media reports, and provides insight in the complex nature of the challenges they face and how government chooses to address these in the build up to the World Cup.
The story is about street children in Durban and their experience of being moved around by police. Some of the most vulnerable children are accessed for comment, and they are identified.
It is hard, in this case to imagine a scenario where being named could potentially result in further harm to the children. It is possible that children could be further harassed by the police, but considering the severity of the treatment already meated out, and the fact that particular police are not named, the risk does not seem very high. Indeed, naming the children could be very empowering as street children are seldom heard and associating a name with the child can serve to make the message more powerful and personal.
It appears to be the case that street children are considered a safety and security problem, rather than a social one, and as a consequence, government strategies on this issue do nothing to empower the children. It rather tries to hide their existence from the view of tourists. The report, which accesses experts from NGOs which try to help them, suggests this is the case.
Children are often rounded up by police and deported from the city centre, supposedly to safe houses. According to a police spokesperson this is to ensure the children receive proper care, as required by the Children’s Act. However, according to the children, they are often dumped on the side of the road far from the city centre. One of the children, Wendy Ndlovu claims that: “[The police] say we can’t be here [in the city] for the World Cup and that they will take us to a nice place. But they end up leaving us anywhere or in these scary houses.”
According to Tom Hewitt of Umthombo Street Children, an NGO that looks after street children, these children experience trauma and are vulnerable to abuse, including sexual abuse by adults, as a result of this. They are also at risk to become drug abusers or get roped into a life of crime.
Lucy Jamieson, of the Children’s Institute says that delays in the enforcement of sections of the Children’s Act facilitate police crackdowns on street children. She also says that provinces have not yet made plans to implement the Act.
Mail & Guardian is commended for reporting on an often forgotten group of children, and accessing a wide variety of sources and giving expression to the experiences of the children and the often contradictory ways in which government deals with the issue, highlighting that the children’s best interest is not served by current practice in Durban.