Like many other cities, Durban has children living on its streets. in recent years there were as many as 500 children, under the age of 18 living full-time on the streets however, this is changing.
Street children live all over the city but most popularly in the Point district, near Durban’s famous “Golden Mile” beachfront and International Conference Centre (ICC).
Children come to the streets for an array of reasons. However, there is always a reason. Perhaps they have been sexually abused, threatened, beaten, or Mum has a new boyfriend who does not want them around and makes life uncomfortable. Sometimes their parents are sick or deceased. Whatever the reason, they arrive in the streets with trauma. Typically they are running away from something uncomfortable in their home areas. Street children are like refugees.
Street life is tough. The children tend to join “groups” on the streets for protection. they are often welcomed in but have to contribute somehow. For some it is through begging, other engage in prostitution and older youth sometimes do crime. The streets is full of violence and the children get caught up in this. many get stabbed, raped and beaten up. some get hit by cars. Every year, street children die in Durban as a result of street life.
Many children sniff glue as a way of overcoming the fear of the streets and forgetting the traumas of their lives. This glue has caused peripheral neuropathy in the past leaving the children crippled and semi-crippled. Glue is a psychological addiction rather than a chemical addiction so in order to empower children to be able to leave glue you need to be able to address the traumas in their lives. Street life adds to the trauma that they already have. The children have some terrible experiences in the streets which leave them emotionally scarred.
Durban’s history with street children has been controversial. in the past, city authorities would round up street children in police vans and ship them out of the city when there were major conferences and festivals. This would often be accompanied by violence. Thankfully, this horrific practice of forced removals ended just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Ending the round-ups of street children was a longstanding campaign of Umthombo’s. Durban has entered a new era in how it engages with its street children. Police round-ups (called “Operations” or “sweeps”) are widely seen as socially unacceptable and bad public relations for the City. Meaningful engagement through social workers and child care workers is the new way! Umthombo, the Department of Social Development and the Municipality are now all on the same page!
There are currently around 200, children under the age of 18, living on Durban’s city streets. This number can still be drastically reduced. Ultimately through the right citywide strategies, the backlog of kids who have been on the streets for years is coming down and an incredible safety net is in place and being further developed for new arrivals.
Film and Edit By Steven Michelsen