HARARE – Police have launched a blitz on Harare’s homeless people, vagrants and street kids and will swoop on parents who force their children to beg on the streets.
Harare provincial police spokesperson Tadiuos Chibanda said those rounded up will be taken to government social services institutions while parents will be arrested.
He said most street children and beggars had turned into habitual criminals.
“We will be rounding up all street kids, vagrants and homeless people because some of them have turned into a danger to society,” said Chibanda.
“As police, we have received complaints from the public about street children who end up robbing innocent people or assist criminals in committing crimes in the CBD (central business district),” Chibanda said.
According to Chibanda, parents who have abandoned their children on the streets or force their children to beg will face the wrath of the law as authorities move in to enforce child rights in the wake of a spike in abuse cases.
“It is an offence under the Child Protection Act to allow a minor to beg in the street. These children are being abused by their parents and end up as street kids,” he said.
Statistics from the Police Victim Friendly Unit reveal that between January to October 2012, over 2 400 children were raped with 70 percent of the cases perpetrated by relatives.
According to law enforcement agents, this has contributed to an increase in the number of children who flee from their homes to streets.
Rights groups such as Streets Ahead estimate that close to 3 000 children reside or beg on the streets of Harare.
Most of them are orphans who stay with abusive guardians, according to Streets Ahead, an organisation that works to rehabilitate street children.
He added that police have enlisted the services of internal intelligence and a host of civil society groups in the operation as most of the street children have guardians who are able to take care of them.
A snap survey by this paper revealed that some children have grown to be fathers in the street and are impregnating young girls who would have fled homes due to abuse ranging from sexual, physical and economic.
Harare is awash with beggars asking for anything from food to money and clothing as grinding poverty takes a toll on an impoverished society and a country facing its biggest political and economic crisis since majority rule 33 years ago.
Statistics provided by United Nation (UN) children’s agency, Unicef, show that two out of three children in Zimbabwe, representing 3,5 million children, live below the monthly food datum line currently hovering above $500.
This has forced most of the children to turn to begging with some being forced into commercial sex work and child labour, according to Unicef.
Police also warned that the exercise dubbed “Usagara mumugwagwa” will not spare children assisting blind beggars as this is illegal.
“That child is supposed to be attending school like other children, instead of being in class, the minor is in the street assisting an old person to beg.
“Socially it seems normal, but it is illegal. The child is being deprived of his or her right to education and it is the duty of the police to protect those children and ensure they determine their own future,” Chibanda said.
This is not the first time that police will be rounding up street children in the capital as last year, a similar exercise was conducted but failed to bring sanity in the city.
Police said most of the criminal activities happening in the city centre are being linked to these children with suspicion that some of them are now robbers.
“There will be a vetting process on these children so that those children who would have been linked to robberies and house breaking in the city centre are arrested.
“Some of these children are in the habit of giving tips to robbers as well as car breakers,” said Chibanda. – Xolisani Ncube