DURBAN: AS YOUTH Month ebbs away, concern is mounting over the drastic increase in the number of youngsters on the streets of Durban.

The trend flies in the face of President Jacob Zuma drumming up awareness of empowering the leaders of tomorrow.

Phoenix Youth Centre director Sharm Maharaj confirmed the worrying trend of youth fending for themselves on the street.

He said he had seen “more and more” young people begging across Durban.

“I often see young girls begging at robots. They are prime candidates for abuse,” he said.

A Chatsworth street vendor at a busy complex told the Herald the number of young adults begging was out of control.

The elderly man said: “Poverty is a way of life for these youngsters.”

A well-placed source, who asked not to be named, raised the alert of young adults on the streets after reaching adulthood and having to leave welfare facilities.

Several organisations in and around the city open their doors to care for abandoned and impoverished children, but have to let them go when they turn 18.

Aryan Benevolent Home board member Nirode Bramdaw gave the assurance that children were never abandoned at the Bhai Rambharos Home for Children in Chatsworth.

He said: “We never disengage our contact with children when they reach the age of 18.”

Bramdaw said those involved in looking after children ensured they had a future.

“We try, as far as possible, to either find them meaningful employment or to help them further their studies,” he said.

Similar assurances were given by Child Welfare Durban and Districts, which runs several welfare homes across Durban, including the Lakehaven Child and Youth Care Centre.

The organisation's Irene Okoye said: “We continue to render services to over-18s, provided they are engaged in formal studies. We help them find jobs and homes.”

To economically empower the youth, Okoye called for businesses to assist impoverished youth through skills development and employment when they were ready to leave welfare homes.

NGO iCare helps take teens off the streets and into homes.

The organisation's Gail Elson said there was usually a flood of youngsters begging during holidays, when tourists were inclined to hand out money and food.

Elson warned against this.

“Street children may be addicted to harmful substances and may trade what they collected. Instead, donate to welfare organisations that try to improve the lives of street children,” said Elson.

Okoye said: “The world out there is very competitive, so young people need to ensure they derive the maximum benefits from the opportunities afforded.”

ABH’s Bramdaw advised youth: “Apply your minds to become meaningful members of society.”