Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Stray dogs, stray cattle and free range children menace: it is nobody’s business!

In August 2015 in an article titled ‘A call for responsible politics and responsible dog ownership’, The Badge of Courage decried the problem posed by stray and called upon authorities to do something. While some district authorities have resolved to eliminate stray dogs, others have adopted a business as usual attitude in spite of reports that beneficiaries of the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID) program are losing their small stock to these stray dogs. This attitude is however not surprising because the victims are nonentities with the least influential voice.

Gaborone motorists have complained about cattle that are rendering the city’s road a death trap and they have been met with a show of the middle finger. However, what we have tended to treat as a trivial matter is the problem of young children who freely roam shopping areas, bars and depots and play everywhere at odd hours. These are children from relatively stable families who are neglected by their parents. This article seeks to highlight the problem.

Street children is a term that evokes painful images of hungry, dirty and homeless children who live on the streets. The term is usually applied in same reference and has an equivalent allusion to street dogs or stray dogs. On the other hand, loitering children are those children having permanent places of abode with parents who are unfortunately not always bothered about the whereabouts of their children. However, while they do have homes loitering children experience much the same air of neglect as street children and stray dogs as well as causing severe discomfort to persons with a heart. Bearing in mind that children are the face of any nation, many compassionate people with the heart of a human being are often severely traumatized by the sight of unsupervised young children milling around bars, depots, shopping areas and so forth while their parents are probably making out on the couch or having a sumptuous meal in an upmarket restaurant somewhere.

This opinion is provoked by news from South Africa to the effect that a female motorist in Cape Town shot dead a teenager at an intersection after a smash-and-grab gang attempted to rob her of her hand bag. Curiously many people voiced their support for the motorist and even urged others to adopt the shoot to kill as a viable self-defence method. The Police later released information to the effect that the teenager was a habitual criminal who has been their customer since his formative years. While condemning the shooting of the boy, his relatives did confirm that he had dropped out of school and had taken to loitering at intersections. Thus, the manner in which the teenager became a petty thief and ultimately met his maker is very instructive ÔÇô he strayed before the eyes of parents and state authorities. Many of us are born good-natured but stray due to a variety of factors among them being bad parenting which some classify as free range parenting.

There are parents who strongly feel that children should be let free to play and not be kept in confinement like prisoners. The Badge of Courage do subscribe to this school of thought but at the same time strongly hold the view that children should play in a child-friendly, secure, controlled and relatively clean environment that guarantees some measure of safety and security. For ages, children have played together outside their houses in the process learning vital skills such as turn-taking, conflict management, organizing themselves and so forth. While circumstances have changed and safe outdoor play space has become a luxury, many parents still encourage their children to vamoose and join peers deep in the modern jungle many streets away from home. In some cases, children are given incentives to disappear for some time especially those children who are seemingly addicted to the television. Parentsargue that they need some space to relax and rest away from their noisy children. Others argue that the homes should not be zoos where animals are denied opportunities to explore the outside world. This is a justifiable position if we are to consider the fact that animals that are placed in solitary confinement develop both mental and physical defects. However, this fact should not be used as an excuse for bad parenting and criminal neglect of children.

There are so many parents who tend their children as though they were free-range chicken that eke out a living by feeding on worms and human excreta. Essentially, children who are let out to play everywhere, every day, for hours on end have to improvise and adopt desperate survival skills. Most of these children are often in the care of absentee parents who have evidently ceased to be part of their children’s lives. This implies that the children are left to their own devices having to figure out what is safe and what is not; what time to go home and so on. Every day after school, they (school going kids) would either go home to change out and immediately head to theopen space or shallow and dangerous culverts for their routine games or right away converge at the home-away-from home to play till very late in the evening in addition learning how to gesture obscenely or how to curse passers-by or even how to mug. Those who are not enrolled in school would disappear in the early hours and only report back after sunset. Since they spend the entire day away from home, they have to fend for themselves by scavenging for food, begging from strangers and of course mugging their peers who have been sent out to a grocery store.  

Responsible parents do allow their children to go play outside with others but only within sight and sound of their home so that they can quickly intervene whenever necessary. This category of parents seeks to ensure that they keep an eye on their kids and often do keep an eye out for each other’s children. This is responsible parenting notsnooping or being over-protective. Parents who fall in this category should be applauded and somewhat rewarded to encourage good parenting. Experts in children behaviour argue that parents should teach kids that their actions have consequences and this would require parents to monitor their children so that they can be able to observe wayward behaviours. Nothing can be more destructive to parental leadership than a parent who does not make time to occasionally mingle with their children and be in a position to get signals about changes in behaviour.

Many lazy or indolent parents consider the presence of kids on the streets at odd hours to be a normal sight that should not worry anyone. However, like stray dogs that have to concoct a living out of virtually nothing, loitering and neglected children have to conjure a combination of survival strategies to navigate the typical rough and tumble antics of life in the jungle. Such survival skills may include unorthodox and unlawful modes that eventually become their lifestyles.

Many children especially teenagers who hang out in spaces adjoining bars and related adult entertainment spots pick up some wayward lifestyles from disoriented imbibers to the extent of dropping out of school to pursue the new career. While the small ones may not immediately take on this unruly and rebellious way of life, they nevertheless pick up some bad manners from rogues who patronize bars and depots and eventually graduate as gangsters. The Badge of Courage calls upon relevant authorities to give some thoughts to the problem of loitering children with a view to combating it before these visibly neglected teens turn the tides against us and like stray dogs, start feeding on our livestock.

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