Street children begging from a motorist. (AP PHOTO/Rob Cooper)

Pietermaritzburg - They are at almost every robot, every intersection of Pietermaritzburg… dressed in filthy rags, eyes glazed over and desperate for money.

These are the street children of the capital city, who are increasing in number daily.

The Daily News spoke to social worker Emma Downing, who has a PhD in psychology and works on a volunteer basis for various NGOs in and around the province.

She described the street children around the country as a “hidden epidemic”.

“Most of us tend to ignore the problem. When we see a dirty child approach our car window begging for money or food, the majority of us pretend we can’t see them and hope they go away.

“Others shoo them off with a wave of the hand, and a second later, it’s as if the child was never even there.”

Downing said that if we took the time to actively notice these children, we would be shocked at how many there were.

“Hundreds of children pace the streets of this city every day. The stark reality is that more than half of these children do so with a glue bottle stuck up their noses. They believe they are alone and survive any way they can.”

Thankfully there are a number of organisations in the city which aim to help these children to berehabilitated and reintegrated.

But the street children on drugs have a much harder time re-entering the world.

“Once a child is addicted to something like glue, it makes it very difficult for them to go to school and have a normal life.”

The Khayalethu outreach programme at Youth For Christ is one of the organisations in the city which addresses the problem.

Managed by Simphiwe Sithole, with a team of five volunteers, the organisation is currently assisting 150 children.

He appealed to people who come across street children to refer them to the shelter and not give them money because they used that cash to feed their drug habit.

“Here, programmes are in place to work with them. We have a team who work specifically with young people struggling with street life,” Sithole said.

Other organisations include the Children in Distress Network and ChildLine.

Police and the Msunduzi municipality have indicated that initiatives are under way to address the increasing number of street children, which will include the participation of NGOs and the Department of Social Development.

Daily News