Mwanza. The number of street children in Mwanza has increased sharply in recent years despite various measures that have been taken to address the situation.
Statistics show there are over 2,500 street children in the city.
These children wander on the streets daily, seeking money for food and other basic needs.
They walk in groups, with some begging for money and others engaging in menial tasks such as washing cars and motorcycles.
“It is so sad seeing these young people loitering in the city with no hope for the future. Where could their parents be?” wondered Mr Mwehuza Alex, a former lecturer.
Owing to their future being uncertain, it is feared that the city is bringing up violent criminals, who will be hard to get rid of.
At daybreak, little street children can be seen begging for money as their older brothers and sisters collect waste paper which they sell to recyclers.
At dusk, the street children give the money they have collected to their leader in exchange for protection, food and drugs, while older girls prepare food. In this way, they create their own communities.
Dr Sabina Mkwaya of Nyamagana District Hospital says this is not the kind of life young children should go through.
“Lack of parental care, guidance and protection may also drive them to violent crime,” she says.
The Citizen has discovered that the children use drugs to suppress hunger and make them forget their misery, albeit temporarily.
Mr Tumaini Alfred, a psychologist in the city, says there are different perceptions of street children among state agencies and non-governmental organisations.
Police, for instance, define street children as those committing crime, begging and stealing in the streets after being abandoned by their families, he adds.
“These children are trying to escape a hostile family environment characterised by violence, abuse, alcoholism and alienation. They feel they can no longer trust society, and try to manage their lives and future on their own.”
Urban poverty is among factors that force children to turn to street life. Other factors include money, peer influence, substance abuse and the hope of a better life.
Poverty, war, hunger, drought, lack of clothing, shelter, family disintegration and the death of a parent are among other reasons that force children out of their families and on to the streets.
According to Mr Edwin Soko, a human rights activist in Mwanza, the strongest pull factors are peer influence and drug use.
A recent Unicef publication says the definition of street children is still a cause for concern.
Research on street children by non-governmental organisations and Unicef suggests that a comprehensive definition and categorisation should include the extent to which conditions on the streets expose children to specific risks.
These include abuse of dangerous substances, exploitative work, sexual exploitation, discrimination, mistreatment and violence.