Street Children in South Africa: Findings from Interviews on the Background of Street Children in Pretoria, South Africa

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

During September 1993 an investigation was launched on the lifestyle, activities, experiences, and background of street children in Pretoria, South Africa. Qualitative rather than quantitative interviews were conducted to gather as much information as possible on the total life situation and subjective experiences of these children. This article focuses specifically on their background. The responses to each interview are discussed and compared with research done in the past on South African street children.

DISCUSSION

The average age of the respondents was between 13 and 14 years as shown in Figure 1. Figures in Cape Town differ only slightly . . . in that the mean age of runaways is 12.9 years and the mean age of admission to The Homestead is 13.6 years (Cockburn, 1991). Richter (1991) found street children in South Africa to be between 7 and 18 years of age, with the majority between 13 and 16. Richter (1991) further found that the ages of street children in poor Third World countries (11 to 16 years) differ significantly from those in rich First World countries (older than 16 years). Linda Zingaro, a director of an agency in Vancouver, Canada, which serves the needs of street children in a First World country, confirms Richter's findings: "The kids that I predominantly deal with are between 15 and 16 and up to 24 or 25" (Zingaro, 1988, p. 9).

A quote from Schaefer (1989) depicts the life of a street child: "As a bitter highveld winter wind whips through the suburbs of Johannesburg, ten-year-old Moses, huddled in the doorway of a shop in Hillbrow, pulls another piece of cardboard over his body and takes a sniff from his glue bottle, hoping it will block out the cold and bring him some sleep" (p. 19).

Race and Gender

All the street children involved in the present investigation were of African origin and all were boys. According to Ross (1991, p. 70), the street child phenomenon in South Africa is merely the outcome of the political system of racial segregation that has been in place since the 1940s. Street children are simply described as the victims of the former policy of apartheid. Ross illustrates her statement as follows: "The vast majority of an estimated 9,000 street children in South Africa are black. There are virtually no white street children in South Africa, but there are 10,000 white children in 160 state-registered and subsidized children's homes. In contrast, there are no state-administered children's homes for African children in the urban areas. The 12 existing private homes accommodate just under 1,000 African children. Although the existing 11 places of safety for African children can accommodate 1,400 children, only 700 children were harbored there during 1991."

The present ratio of Africans to whites in South Africa is approximately 5:1. If the white community produces 10,000 children in need of care, the statistical projection is that there are at least 50,000 black youths in need of care. If one considers the present high levels of violence and poverty in the black townships of South Africa, this projection of needy black children seems to be unrealistically low (Le Roux, 1993).

Ross (1991) reached the following conclusions: "If it is self-evident why there are no white street children, it is also obvious why there are so many black street children. White children in need of social care in South Africa have been adequately provided for by the community and by the state. Black children in need of social care have been sorely neglected. . . . South Africa's street children are an uncomfortable reminder of this country's racial legacy: they are yet more of apartheid's victims" (p. 70).

According to Hickson and Gaydon (1989), "What is unique about South African street children is the role that apartheid ideology has played in their lives. . . . For this reason Johannesburg's (black) 'twilight children' must be located within a political context" (p. …