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Don’t feed the children

Currently in Swellendam there are several groups of children at risk that are causing havoc amongst local businesses, especially in the tourism areas where they target visitors.

In the last eighteen months, in Swellendam, the problem has grown exponentially – unsupervised young children – as young as seven or eight – approaching people and asking for money or food. Being a big softie, I find it extremely hard to ignore their pleas. One afternoon I sat for a couple of hours outside a local restaurant watching them operate. What an organised bunch they were! The entrepreneurial skills they showed – the people skills – the knowledge of their own irresistible charms…

They seemed very self confident – at times persistent and even quite aggressive. But they are neither criminals, nor dangerous individuals, only children at risk, lost in a confused society, especially during these unfortunate, unpredictable and unprecedented times we all face, not only here in Swellendam, but in Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa and the world as a whole too.

On two separate occasions I watched as they were removed by police, and warned off by a local security company. It seemed to me that, to the kids, this actually was part of the adventure – ducking and running and laughing.

I felt a range of emotions…..

Anger (at their parents, the government, society and the kids themselves).

Sadness (for them being exposed and neglected by their parents).

Confusion (why aren’t they at school? Who is responsible for them?).

Frustration (why isn’t anybody DOING anything?)

Helplessness (How can I help? What can I do?)

So, if you are also wondering how best to help – please read on……

One thing is sure – do not respond to their pleas by giving them anything.

Not money, toys, sweets, or even healthy food. Sounds harsh? The only thing you will achieve is to make yourself feel better and them dependent on diverted attention.

It’s not helpful to give children (doesn’t matter how young they are) in the street anything at all – to be precise, you’re only contributing to a more complex and bigger problem as it is. You are keeping the cycle of poverty, co-dependency alive – even worse you could be contributing to one of the main factors that causes devastation in the poorer communities – drug dependency.

By giving to street kids we are keeping them poor for the rest of their lives. Children who actually have the possibility to go to school think it’s better to work on the streets, because they actually get (better) food and they get money. Even their own parents send them on the streets, because they see that their kid is bringing in a lot of cash by begging. This also means that they are more vulnerable to criminal activities and organised crime, By giving money to children on the streets, we are often funding people that are forcing those kids to beg in the first place, from parents to criminals and druggies too.

Many street children at risk exhibit behavioural problems such as, aggression and substance abuse issues, but these are coping mechanisms of children who are in a great deal of psychological pain due to emotional neglect and lack of parental support and supervision.

Many of the kids have been abandoned, orphaned, chronically neglected, physically, sexually and mentally abused, or are exploited by others to beg and borrow for commercial exploitation amongst other things.

How you CAN help
It feels really bad to ignore a child that is asking you to help him or her, especially when they look worn down and hungry. Luckily, however there are other ways you can help than by giving them what they ask for.

In Swellendam, CAP, an NGO, has set up a Street Children programme called the POWER RANGERS. CAP offers educational supportive, life skills mentorship as well as cultural and sports based programs, horse assisted therapy interventions and computer skills development for those kids participating in their programs.

• Build positive relationships with children on the street, they need our support, care, genuine concern and protection.

• Gently encourage such children to return safely home, adhere to traffic and road safety rules and regulations to benefit all.

• Do not ignore them, report such children (under the age of 16) to your nearest police station or to your local Department of Social Development office. By law DSD and SAPS must respond to any children living, working or begging on the street. Follow up, by law anyone may fill out a Form 22 to report a child living, working or begging on the street to DSD. By law churches, religious pastors & ministers, teachers and the like MUST report such children according to the correct protocol. When contacting authorities, the best is always to follow it up with official affidavit at SAPS with place of incidents, types of misdemeanor, names of children and their home address to allow authorities to act decisively and appropriately. Remember, according to the CHILDREN’s ACT and latest POPI ACT it is unlawful to distribute photos of children on any social media platforms or groups.

• Do not move or take these children home or to your home. Only designated social workers and the police may remove a child without parental consent. It is also illegal to transport such children without a valid PDP (Professional Drivers Permit).

• .Support professional and comprehensive intervention services for street children , such as the POWER RANGERS at CAP in Swellendam by either donating your time (as lifestyle mentors, sport coaches) and/or resources and/or financially.

Next time you come across a child on the streets, ignore your instinct and don’t give them anything. You’re only feeding the problem instead of creating a sustainable solution to the problem.

If you feel you can make a positive contribution in whatever way, you can contact Gerhard Swanepoel (Special advisor to the OVERBERG DISTRICT MUNICIPALITY SAFETY FORUM, Tutor at UNISA in Criminology and Victomology as well as multi-professional mentor) working with the POWER RANGERS at CAP in association with SAPS (police), DOSD (Dept of Social Development) and DOE (Depart of Education) at or on WhatsApp at 0685103682.


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