Children are generally believed to be the future of any nation and their proper development is of significance to a healthy nation. However the situation of our street children in Zambia is a source of concern as numbers of unsupervised children taking to the streets seem to continuously grow. The trend on the major streets of Lusaka has seen increasing numbers of children leading visually impaired parents begging for alms, children cleaning cars for alms and those literally begging for alms and left over food. Such a saddening phenomenon is worth researching about as the youngest children are ranging from five to six years in age. The diet of these children is of great concern here. They eat anything they can lay their hands on as long as it is food without proper guidance from responsible adults. These children are supposed to be at home or in school and eating healthy to keep them away from the streets. This paper uses an exploratory approach to inductively explain the case of children’s health and nutrition on their Education. Specific focus is on the Street Kids as children that should not be left behind. Qualitative research methodologies will be employed to collect in-depth data that will then be analysed thematically.
Key words: Disadvantaged Children of the street, Disadvantaged Children on the street, nutrition, health, and education
Children are generally believed to be the future of any nation and their proper development is of significance to a healthy nation. However the situation of our street children in Zambia is threatening, with a growing number of unsupervised children taking to the streets. The growing trend on the major streets of Lusaka has seen increasing numbers of children leading visually impaired parents begging for alms, children cleaning cars for alms and those literally begging for alms and left over food. Such a saddening phenomenon is worth researching about as the youngest children are ranging from five to six years in age. The diet of these children is of great concern here. They eat anything they can lay their hands on as long as it is food. These children are supposed to be at home or in school and eating healthy to keep them away from the streets.
The major reason for streetism given by some passersby and motorists is generally hunger at home, insecurity and some are unwanted. The various responses from the homes of these children agreed with the assumption while others refuted the claim as sheer shame that the child was on the street begging for food. The question to be asked is "what is a five (5) year old child doing on the streets on his/her own unattended to?" Although such a scenario has been given here, the researcher does not completely assume that eating healthy will keep these children out of the streets because even what may be eaten at home may not meet the nutritional requirement however, it is argued that children's health and nutrition is of vital importance to their growth and education. A lack of nutritious food has lasting implications on a growing child and their education. This paper focuses on the diet of a Street Kids. The importance of providing a nutritious diet to children to enable them function actively in school is crucial here and much more the Street Kids. No child should be left behind in school due to an unhealthy state. While the responsibility to ensure that children are healthy rests squally on the parents, there is much that needs to be done to support parents of such children.
This paper uses an exploratory approach to inductively explain the case of children’s health and nutrition on their Education. Specific focus is on the Street Kids as children that should not be left behind or/and overlooked. Qualitative research methodologies will be employed to collect in-depth data that will then be analysed thematically. The following research questions were raised
1. Where do the children on/of the street come from?
2. Why are they found on the street?
a. Who takes care of them?
3. How do they meet their daily need?
4. Which schools do they attend or which they attended if they used to go?
a. What are their perceptions about school?
The observation schedule included the following:
1. Observe their diary dietary provisions
2. Observe their health and any serendipitous occurrences
This paper suggests the use of ‘Disadvantaged Children on/of the Street (DCS) because the term ‘Street Kids’ has discriminatory tendencies (Biased, intolerant) coupled with stigmatization. The use of the term tends to extemporaneously label the children as beggars, nonsensical, thieves etc. Additionally the term Street Kids tend to assume a position of the ‘Street’ as the parent (custodian) of the Kids and hence may postulate the street to be responsible for the Kids wellbeing. If we say ‘John’s Kids’ the message conveyed is that John is the father of the Kids. Children cannot be given to the ‘streets’ to be fostered. The responsibility lies in the hands of the parents. When parents/families relinquish that responsibility to the streets, they should be answerable to the powers that be however; this is not the focus of this paper. The use of DCS posits that the children are underprivileged and hence due to the factors that reduce them to that position, they are drawn to seek help from street users (motorist, pedestrians, and vendors) as an alternative. Others may use the street as a home much more for those who have either been abandoned due to a number of reasons such as death of both parents (Lugalla and Bwambo, 1999). The authors (Ibid) have correctly classified DCS into two categories; children of the street and children on the street. Children of the street live and sleep on the street and have no fixed abode. They may not even have contact with their parents if alive hence have no parental or family protection, love or care. They fend for themselves. Children on the street literally tend to spend time on the street but are able to return home at the end of the day to their families. The categories fit in very well with the six DCS in the study. These children are disadvantaged in many ways that may have many implications on their current and future lives.
The nutrition of the Disadvantaged Children on/of the Street and its implications
Generally speaking one would say every nation in Africa has DCS and diverse reasons can be advanced to justify why. In Zambia it is estimated that there were 13, 301 DCS in 2012 of which 11, 475 were male and 2026 were female, 193 of this population were below the age of 18. These statistics were revealed by the Minister of Gender and Child Development then (Lusaka Voice, 2012). National studies conducted by Tacon and Lungwangwa (1999-2004) revealed that 0.9% to 1.6 of Zambian children live on the street. Such statistics make sad reading and conjure a number of thoughts about the total being of such children and the implications on their status in the future. The background of the DCS and the reasons for staying on the streets vary just as they are also of varying ages, gender and place of origin. The social economic characteristics of their families tend to be diverse which could loosely justify some reasons the children are on the street. The DCS have poor diet provisions due to the type of food they eat. The children may go without a proper meal for days. They snack on anything they can lay their hands on. The importance of a good diet cannot be trivialized because of the value of nutritious food to the human body. The DCS are growing and what they eat is essential for their growth like any other child in Zambia.
The concept of Nutrition is contested and hence definition of this term is problematic. This paper will adopt Barasi’s (2003) definition that describes nutrition as the study of food and nutrients essential to the body’s healthiness and how the body uses the nutrients to promote and support growth, maintenance and reproduction of cells. Therefore in relating to the nutrition of the DCS, the research will be referring to the provision of the nutrients available in their diet to promote and support growth, maintenance and reproduction of cells. As an essential element in the growth and development of children, Children’s HeartCare (2007) affirm that nutrition has a direct linkage to their future health as adults. The DCS are children like any other and their importance in the nation cannot be underestimated. They qualify as the future of any nation. Such a position is supported by Marotz (2014) positing that the state and wellness of the children has undisputable consequence on their development and ability to learn. Lugalla and Mbwambo (1999) argue that the lack of a proper diet has adverse effect on their physical, mental and emotional development. The ability of a nutritive diet to contribute significantly to the growth, development and the ability to learn as noted by Marotz (2014) should be critically considered because that questions the type of future adults the DCS will be. Commenting on the general condition of DCS in Lusaka, Glosk Africa (2014) state that they are underdeveloped, malnourished, careless about their health and illiterate. As earlier pointed out the DCS tend to be unsupervised and hence there are no responsible adults to promote good eating habits and to inculcate preventive health habits in them. Children benefit from having families as they know how to protect, promote their safety and wellbeing. The DCS tend to create families of their own on the street that provides security as observed by Glosk Africa (2014). However such created families are limited in providing a caring environment to raise the children and ensure that essential nutrients are present in the food eaten. Food eaten is meant for survival rather than growth hence they are underdevelopment as noted by Glosk Africa.
It is within the confines of a caring environment that preventive health approaches tend to be inculcated in children at an early age. The preventive health approaches could include good oral hygiene, washing hands after using the toilet or before touching food, disposing off of rubbish and monitoring disease outbreaks like cholera etc. While this is crucial at an early age, it may not be possible for the DCS (Marotz, 2014 and Nelson and Luciana, 2001). Studies upon studies on children and their nutrition have underscored the importance of a well-balanced diet in influencing brain development, behavior and attention span (UNICEF, 2012). One’s environment is important and that brings on the aspect of Human Ecology which as noted by Bronfenbrenner, (1989), as an interdisciplinary applied field that uses a holistic approach to help people solve problems and improve human potential within their near environment that includes their clothing, family, home, and community. While Human Ecology includes influence of humans on their environment and the influence of the environment on human behavior it also includes their adaptive strategies. The DCS tend to develop adaptive strategies to survive on the street which is their created environment. The brief discussion below using the model further shows the importance of caring environment.
Diagram 1: Ecological framework
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