June 16, 2017

"Malawi should prioritise early childhood development to stop children ending up on the streets"

Five-year-old Memory goes to a preschool in Malawi run by RIPPLE Africa. But too many children don't get access to early care

Marshall Dyton

Global Youth Ambassador from Malawi

On Day of the African Child, Global Youth Ambassador Marshall Dyton says investment in early years care could help kids from poorer and marginalised households.

Today it’s Day of the African Child and, as I am writing this blog post, there are over 2000 and over 1700 children scavenging and begging around in the streets of Lilongwe and Blantyre respectively. 

This is according to the 2015 study by The Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare in collaboration with Retrak and Chisomo Children’s Club, who embarked on an exercise to count the children living and working on the streets.

The study found out that most of the children were aged seven to 15. In both locations, close to one in five children living and working on the streets is a girl. This is in line with other recent studies which found the percentage of girls to be between 7% and 20%. 

I always wondered why Malawi has miserably failed to get rid of this "street kids disease" - yet millions if not billions of kwachas have been spent on this project.

However, I have now realised that they didn’t get it right because theirrecommendations from the reports like the one above don’t help to reduce this challenge – let alone curbing it. 

You know why? The reports overlook one thing – early childhood development (ECD). In Malawi, at the age of seven, the child is supposed to be in primary school – probably grade 2. But this can only be possible if the government had invested properly in ECD. 

The government should have allocated more funds to programmes that concentrated on the five things that prepares a child for a better future - nutrition, health, learning, play and protection. We needed more campaigns sensitising citizens on the need of these five important pillars of life of a child. 

They say the first five years of your life has everything to do with who you become as an adult. That’s a fact because 90% of the brain develops while you’re still scared of the dark, so those years are very important.

This is why, as a Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador, I feel like it is high time Malawi joined Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign, which is all about those early years.

If all young children have access to the care they need - including nutrition, health, learning, play and protection - they stand the best chance of growing up to be anything they want.

99% of these Malawian kids come from poorer and marginalised households. They are put at a disadvantage and are often already behind by the time they start school. 

In the end, they go into the streets because they have no hope. No proper foundation. They feel they are cursed.

And just because they have no voice, these kids are prone to human trafficking. People come, give them wrong promises and take them to unknown locations where they are abused and used as slaves - even killed, who knows?

The government can't know. Nobody knows. They don't have anyone who can report to the police because they are alone. In the end, some of these kids are groomed to be serious criminals.

What is so sad is that even when these children are attacked and they try to report it to police, they are the ones arrested. According to some kids I had a chance to talk to. They are always suspects. They have no say. 

This is why I ask Malawi's government to prioritise early childhood development so that these children are prepared to be leaders and not criminals.

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