Towards evening on a typical workday in Harare — at the height of the rush hour — over 300 cars pass through the traffic light-controlled intersection at Samora Machel Avenue and Leopold Takawira Street.
BY GIBSON NYIKADZINO
As the vehicles facing the red light come to a halt, 14-year-old Ruramai Patsanza (not her real name), clad in school uniform with her visually impaired father in tow, looms by a stationary car’s window.
Ruramai is determined to plead her father’s case as she begs. When the heavens smile on her, at the end of the day she would have collected $5.
On the other side of the road, 12-year-old Henry Sadiki (not his real name) leads his father to another stationary vehicle. Curiously, both children’s parents, being visually impaired, are not able to see the motorists’ expressions.
Sombre and brow beaten, the begging parties weave between the lanes of traffic, pacing down to each car before the red light signal lapses. They move to a strategic traffic light where they beg motorists as they are routinely stopped by the traffic light.
Motorists have a quick choice to make as the beggars appear, wind down the window and toss a coin, proffer a polite apology for not being able to help or brush them off.
“I am the first in a family of three. Both parents are blind and at times my siblings help my mother in the begging quest,” said a brow-beaten Ruramai.
“I am a Form Two student at Glen View 1 High. When I attend a morning session at school, I get into town in the afternoon after school to help my father beg for alms. It is difficult for both of us because we get food from begging.”
Her father, 42-year-old Matthew Patsanza, feels cheated by nature as he narrates the situation his family goes through to bring food on the table.
“My wife begs with the other children, aged nine and five. It is unfortunate that they no longer go to school because we cannot afford the fees. We strive to educate Ruramai, hoping she will look after her siblings,” he said.
While children of Ruramai and Henry’s age are up and about in their neighbourhood’s playgrounds and others are busy engrossed in their school extra-curricular activities, these two have to worry about making enough money to feed their parents and siblings.
Zimbabwe has enacted variety of legislations for the empowerment of children, but according to legal practitioners it has failed to ensure that children do not beg, do not remain homeless and get rid of the evils prevalent in society which come in their way of overall development.
“We have the Constitution, a supreme law, but it seems there is no respect for its contents since cases of child begging are actually becoming rampant,” said Harare lawyer Charity Sibanda.
“On the other hand, it is a serious social issue for our society. We tend to overlook problems until they grow big.”
Social commentators have highlighted that while governments around the world try to fight child labour, the government’s snail pace in intervening to ease the plight of the children of the handicapped is appalling, hence labelling child begging a form of child labour.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) defines child labour as work performed by children who are under the minimum age legally specified for that kind of work, or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.
This includes work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling.
Social commentator James Jabangwe said the fact that some children were helping their parents to beg while others were in school made it difficult for society to address the issues holistically because of the prevailing economic situation.
“It is actually a nightmare that we are witnessing which we should work hard to curb before things get out of hand. It is appalling to see young boys and girls begging alongside their parents,” he said.
“Political leaders don’t tend to make speeches on tackling this problem.”
Recent global estimates based on data of Unicef, the ILO and the World Bank indicate that 268 million children aged five to 17 are engaged in child labour while some 230 million among them are below the age of 14.
Patience Chiyangwa, a communications officer for Childline Zimbabwe, revealed that the government does give money to families of the disadvantaged, but at times the money does not come reliably.
“We have children who beg on behalf of their parents in the streets because of the dire situation at home. The government used to help with monthly stipends, but they have not been coming reliably. These children are, however, deprived of basic rights,” said Chiyangwa.