From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ACNS3289 Rising number of street children as Malawi food crisis

From "Anglican Communion News Service" <>
Date Wed, 5 Feb 2003 13:02:37 -0000

ACNS 3289     |     CENTRAL AFRICA     |     5 FEBRUARY 2003

Rising number of street children as Malawi food crisis deepens

[Tearfund] As the food crisis tightens its grip in Malawi, Christian relief
and development agency, Tearfund, reports a worrying increase in the number
of children coming onto the street in the desperate search for food and
money. Starvation looms for more than three million people in Malawi -
almost a third of the population - as a result of the country's worst food
crisis for decades.

"We are seeing an increasing number of children coming onto the street
because of the food crisis. There's no food at home so they are forced onto
the street to beg. For many it's their only option," said Nelson Mkandawire,
Executive Director of Tearfund partner Chisomo Children's Club, based in
Malawi's largest city, Blantyre.

Between January and March last year, when hundreds of thousands of families
were desperately short of food, Chisomo Children's Club reported up to a 150
per cent increase in the number of children on Blantyre's streets, when
compared with the previous year. A year on, with the humanitarian situation
now significantly worse in Malawi, Chisomo fears that the number of street
children will exceed last year's increase. The food crisis is expected to
continue to deteriorate until at least the next harvest in three months

"During 2002 we saw approximately 40 new children coming onto the streets
every month, but in December that figure doubled," said Nelson Mkandawire.
"The increase is continuing and we're expecting a huge number of children to
come onto the street in the next three months, many more than last year. The
food shortages are just too big this time and it's deeply worrying," he

Chisomo fear that the real number of children hitting Blantyre's streets
could be much higher than the initial estimates. "These figures only include
unaccompanied children under 14 years of age, but if you include older
children and also those who come onto the streets with their parents to beg
during the day and go home at night, the true picture is likely to be much
worse," said Nelson Mkandawire. "We are also seeing a similar pattern of
growth emerge in the capital Lilongwe."

Grinding poverty, family breakdown and HIV/AIDS are among the main reasons
why children come onto the street in Malawi. It is estimated that 80 percent
of the street children in Malawi are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. But as the food
crisis has deepened, it is currently the main reason that children are
coming onto the street in Blantyre.

Once on the street, children are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Chisomo report
that children as young as six years old, both boys and girls, are sexually
abused on the street in Malawi. "They are so desperate for food that they
are often lured by the promise of money," says Nelson Mkandawire. "My
biggest fear is that as more children are forced onto the street by the food
crisis, there will be a rise in sexual abuse and subsequently in HIV/AIDS."

Chisomo also report that the food crisis is causing children to drop out of
school. Nelson Mkandawire says, "When I asked some of the street children
why they had dropped out of school they said, Why go? We only come home
hungry. At least on the streets we can earn some money to buy food.'"

"There has been a big delay in the rains this year. And when the rains are
late people can't plant their seed and so it delays the harvest," says
Temwani Gausi, Income Generation Officer at Chisomo. "It means that come
April, when people would usually harvest, their crops will still be green
and people will be forced to eat green maize, like last year. I am very
worried about the future."

Erratic rainfall in recent months, resulting in a lack of rain in some areas
and flooding in others, threatens poor harvests once again. "The harvest in
April will provide some respite from the food crisis, but it is unlikely to
last long," says Paul Lapworth, Tearfund's Southern Africa Desk Officer.
"The situation in Southern Africa is a long term crisis that requires long
term solutions."

Malawi is one of seven Southern African countries currently experiencing the
region's worst crisis in decades, caused by a deadly combination of erratic
rainfall leading to widespread harvest failure, HIV/AIDS, political
mismanagement and economic instability. More than 14 million people in
Southern Africa currently depend on international food aid.

Donations to the Tearfund Southern Africa Crisis Appeal can be made by
credit card by calling +44 845 355 8355 (0845 355 8355 from UK) or online at

Donations can also be posted to:

Tearfund Southern Africa Crisis Appeal
TW11 8BR, UK

Cheques made payable to Tearfund and earmarked for "Southern Africa Crisis".

[A photograph to accompany this article is available from]

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