The forgotten children – Part 5

The forgotten children – Part 5

MASERU – FROM a very young age, Thabiso was already displaying anti-social behaviour.
Now 22, he was known for “bad boy” behaviour when he was still in school at Motimposo Primary, often attracting the wrath of school authorities and his parents.
When Thabiso was supposed to enrol for secondary school education at the age of 13, he instead started selling wares in the streets together with other boys from his Tšenola village.

Already belligerent, life on the streets turned him into a monster and his association with much older vagrants did not help matters.
“That is where we started smoking marijuana, drinking beer and committing some petty crimes such as housebreaking,” Thabiso told thepost recently.
It did not take long before the Tšenola boys started thinking about forming dangerous gangs in the village to fight for territory.
“Soon it was one knife fight after another,” he said.
At the time Thabiso’s parents tried to convince him to leave his ways and return home “until they decided that I am mpa e tsoileng (an aborted child).

They simply consider me as having not been born at all.”
When Thabiso’s gang was defeated by a rival gang four years ago, he fled and went to Bloemfontein where he started off as a beggar before getting temporary jobs working in people’s gardens.
But it didn’t take long for him to return to his old ways and he started his criminal activities after linking up with a new Basotho gang.
“Soon I had to run away again,” he said, refusing to divulge the reasons for fleeing Bloemfontein.

“Life there warranted me to come back home. I needed to be in Maseru or else I would have died,” he said.
Thabiso is one of several young men living in a house belonging to Khopolo Lebona, situated behind Shoprite in Maseru. Lebona, the owner of the house says she is considering tearing it down.
Compared to several others boys and young men staying at the house, Thabiso is one of the very few there who look clean and healthy and well-fed.
He lives with a woman in a tidied room they share with two other couples.
He didn’t want to reveal how he is making a living except to say “we go out begging and help shoppers carry their groceries for small gifts”.

His girlfriend too does not want to reveal how she is surviving.
The woman, whom we will call Lerato, is 19 years old.
“My home is in Qoaling where my entire family lives. I just decided to come here, to live here, and they know where I am,” she said.
“I had some problems with them. I smoke, I drink beer and it is a problem to them.”
“I left home a long time ago. I made my own decision to come here, I was not chased away from home,” she said.
In essence, Thabiso and Lerato are now adults – one being 22 and another 19 – and they cannot be described as children in terms of the Children’s Protection Act.

However, they were children when they embarked on street life and perhaps could have avoided their current pitfalls had they received help when they were younger.
The Children’s Protection Act gives children the right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products or psycho-tropic drugs and any other substances declared harmful.
Parents, village chiefs, peace officers and the Ministry of Social Development have the responsibility to help children stay away from such vices.

The Act states that a child would be in need of care and protection if they behave in a manner that is, or is likely to be harmful to themselves or to any other person.
It also states that a child needs protection and care if the parent or guardian is unable or unwilling to take necessary measures to remedy the situation.
A child, according to the Act, would be in need of protection and care if the remedial measures taken by the parent or guardian fail and as a result the child cannot be controlled by their parent or guardian.
“A police officer, the Department of Social Welfare, a chief or member of the community who is satisfied on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care and protection may take the child and place him in a place of safety,” the Act needs.

If the provisions of the law had been followed, the future of thousands of people such as Thabiso and Lerato could have been different as they could have been taken to safe places.
But another problem is the scarcity of such places of safety where children in need of protection can be sheltered.
The Ministry of Social Development does not have its own places of safety for children and it relies on charitable organisations such as churches, NGOs and private orphanages.

The Ministry’s Child Protection manager, ’Mantoa Sejake, has previously told thepost that their mandate is to protect all kinds of people in danger and to achieve that they work with partners such as government ministries, NGOs and individuals.
She said the Act states that a child is anyone below the age of 18.
“At that age, they don’t have any responsibilities in a way and rely on other people for survival and we don’t have a choice but to intervene either ourselves or through our partners. Action has to be taken,” Sejake said.

“Every child has to grow in a family yard either theirs, neighbours’ or relatives but there should be someone who takes responsibility for that particular child,” she said.
“If that’s not the case then it’s not normal hence the need for the ministry to intervene.”
The ministry knows about tens of children living in the inhabitable house behind Shoprite, which they call the White House, and we wait to see what action will be taken to deal with the problem.

Caswell Tlali

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