Children who come to the street are poor, but money alone does not usually cause a child to end up on the streets.
Social factors are the biggest cause of children coming to the streets in Lesotho.
Approximately 60% of children/youth that Sepheo moved off the streets initially came in response to social factors, the most common being:
- Lack of supervision: No one at home pays attention to where the child is, whether they are in school or what time they arrive home. This is either because the caregiver is frequently not at home (working late or in a different district) or are present but not engaged in parenting the child.
- Poor relationships between children and their caregivers: There is no real attachment between the child and their caregiver. While this does happen with biological mothers and/or fathers, poor relationships are most often found when a child is being cared for by extended family who already feel burdened by other responsibilities.
- Family chaos: The child’s home is unstable. Caregivers are drinking heavily, refusing to share food, constantly fighting with one another or speaking abusively to and about the child. They are physically or mentally ill or emotionally unwell. Frequently a child’s biological parents are not together and the parent’s new partner does not want a child from a previous relationship, rejects the child, excludes the child from family activities or forces them to leave.
- Boredom: A child is disinterested in school or cannot speak English enough to understand what is taught. As a result he starts missing classes, joining with other children who do not enjoy school and eventually dropping out altogether. Many children are brought to the streets for the first time by their out-of-school friends.
- Poor coping skills: Occasionally the reason a child comes to the street is minor (e.g. they have been disobedient and are too scared to return home on their own). Sometimes there has been a conflict and the child has overreacted, running away instead of choosing another, healthier response.
While cases do exist, only a small number of children came to the streets because they are expected to contribute financially to the family (10%) or because no family member took responsibility for them after the death of their parent(s) (15%). 15% of children/ youth came by their own choice, without a compelling reason.
Most of the time when a child runs away to the streets they are left there by their relatives. Rarely do relatives (even biological mothers or fathers) come to look for the child. As a result, what could have been a temporary situation had an intervention occurred quickly goes on for weeks and months before finally becoming permanent. The longer children are on the streets the more comfortable they become, the more negative behaviours they pick up and the harder it is to convince them to leave. They begin enjoying the freedoms the street brings and grow used to doing whatever they feel like, without authority. It is this process that leads to “street children” as we know them.
Children are not generally on the street because no family members exist. Lesotho’s family/community structures are incredibly strong, and finding a child with no relatives willing to stay with them is extremely rare.
For nearly every child/youth on the street, Sepheo has found at least one relative prepared to live with them.