I recently got a different view of street life as I had previously perceived it. I have come up with the conclusion that sometimes it is a choice that one makes.
I look into the face of a child who has been living in the streets for most of her adolescent life…there is a mix of vulnerability and strength. It is confusing because you want to feel sorry for her but she is so arrogant and used to protecting herself that she has a hard shell that is impossible to penetrate. She is a victim and sometimes feels powerless, but she is also a survivor .Street life means survival of the fittest…worse for the girl child. The possibility of getting raped, beaten up and harassed is doubled when you live among men in the streets. The fact that all of the people you know use substances to get through the cold night means it is difficult to find someone in the right space of mind. Anything can happen…
There are lots of reasons why a child flees from home to live on the streets. The climate of poverty in South Africa has brought with it overcrowding, violence, unemployment, physical and sexual abuse even of children. Children stay in a single room with parents and they get to witness sexual acts between parents. The hopelessness of the situation leads to alcohol and drug abuse. The cycle is unending. A child feels safer out in the streets where she can fend for herself and some think they can eat better in the streets than at home. Being in the streets means the freedom to make one’s own income through begging, stealing or prostitution and the freedom to choose what to do with that money. Sometimes that is better than staying at home with abusive parents. Some parents even use their children as a source of income in these parts, send them to go and beg so that they can bring the money to them. Fellow strollers and street people provide the sense of belonging one lacks.
I have always wondered, don’t these people have homes? But I realized some do not even want to go back. For the adult street people they probably broke all relationships with family years back that it becomes difficult to go back. Trust would have been broken. For the children it is a different story when their parents’ circumstances forced them into street life. There is no trust and anyone who tries to assist them gets rejected. Too much betrayal in their world it is hard to go back.
It is sad for me to wonder what the future holds for this child I am looking at. Is there any hope?