‘Give a hand up’

2017-10-31 06:01

The number of street children begging at Seaforth beach has been increasing, and along with it the irritation of residents.

The Simon’s Town Civic Association’s Kathryn Bolitho confirms that more children have started busking at Seaforth.

“They get money from tourists. I have seen R200 notes in their money buckets,” she says.

The association has also raised concerns of substance abuse among the children and that elderly residents living nearby have been disturbed by “the constant singing”.

“It is often worse after 16:00 when Law Enforcement has knocked off for the day,” she says. “The parking attendants have tried to help, but they run away and then come back. It is a constant battle.”

JP Smith, Mayco member for safety, security, and social services, says the City of Cape Town’s social development and early childhood development department deals with similar cases in areas such as Camps Bay.

“All complaints regarding street children and busking children are assessed by the City’s street people reintegration unit and referred to the provincial Department of Social Development for intervention where necessary,” he says.

“It is important to differentiate between children engaging in busking who have homes and return to them after earning some money as street entertainers and homeless children (who may be engaged in busking).”

Busking is not illegal in terms of City bylaws, Smith says.

“The Children’s Act requires that no homeless child be left to live on the street (they are ‘children in need of care and protection’) and the Western Cape Department of Social Development has provided training for social workers, police and Metro Police on how to ensure that a child on the street is taken by the police to a place of safety, especially if they are at risk.”

The street people reintegration unit reaches out to street people across the city, including children, says Smith.

“However, in many cases we find street people are not willing to accept social services offered as they are receiving support from residents, businesses and tourists that encourages them to remain on the street,” he says.

“By supporting street people, begging and children busking you may be encouraging destitute people to avoid shelters, reject social assistance from the street people programme and to choose a life on the street. The City also spreads the Give Responsibly campaign message across Cape Town to raise awareness of ‘giving a hand up and not a hand-out’”, Smith says.

“To make a change in the lives of street people, the public is encouraged to give responsibly by donating to shelters and organisations working with homeless people.”

Western Cape Street Children’s Forum spokesperson Janice King says children come to the streets for many reasons, such as often those to do with their own safety.

“Parents are working and do not have support systems that check on children’s safety during working and school hours or provide school support to children [or there is] poverty in the home, which means children continuously get into trouble for not having a uniform, homework done, etc.”

Sometimes parents are “unemployed, demotivated, frustrated and struggling to maintain family support”, which can result in abuse or neglect at home, says King.

In addition, social workers’ caseloads “are excessively large, resulting in poor service delivery to children in need of care and protection”, she explains.

“Children’s homes in the Western Cape have waiting lists of up to 200 children, meaning those children who need places of safety do not get placed or those who are placed are prematurely discharged back to unchanged family situations. Then they return to the streets.”

Life on the street can be very dangerous for children, King stresses. “Children get locked into street life when the public and tourists give them money, when drug dealers use them as drug mules or adult exploiters use them to beg. Children, who do not come to the streets of the CBD, are often recruited by gangs operating in their communities. Children who beg on the street can make up to R1000 a day (depending on the area and the season),” she says.

“It is estimated that it takes 24 hours for a child to contract HIV on the street. If a child is left on the street for longer than two weeks, it is extremely difficult to ever get them off the street.”

The best community response, according to King, is to report the children to local child protection organisations or social development departments.

There are also positive ways to engage these children, King says.

“Be kind to a child on the street. They are not usually ‘at fault’ and cannot be ‘blamed’ for their hard lives. Do not give money (or food or anything) to a child on the street. We do not want them to get locked into street life. Rather support or develop a community-based drop-in centre. And if you really care, foster or adopt a child.”

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