The self-image of adolescent street children in Harare.
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The present study sought to explore the relationship between street childhood and adolescent self-image. In Zimbabwe, there has been a rise in street children population in the urban centres. The current study investigated whether adolescent street children live and work in an eco-developmentally risky context for the development of positive self-image. This rise in street children population has been in the context of a socio-politico-economic crisis which was marked by record inflation rates and the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The research objectives were to investigate the indicators of self-image for both street-working and street-living adolescent children, to investigate the nature of self-image for both street-working and street-living adolescent children, and to determine the effects of self-image on the behaviour of both street-working and street-living adolescent children. A psychoethnographic research design was employed in this study. This involved collection of data for a sustained period in the context within which the participants live. Fieldwork took 10 months. The participants were 13 street-living and 13 street-working adolescent children aged between 12 and 18 years and six key informants all in Harare in Zimbabwe. A total of 32 participants took part in this study. Snowballing was used to recruit key informant interviewees while purposive sampling was used to recruit participants for focus group discussions, in-depth interview, and participant and non-participant observations. Key informant interviews, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, participant and non-participant observations were the data collection methods. Thematic content analysis was used for analysing the data. This thematic content analytic method helped to identify themes on self-image that emerged from the data. Data analysis revealed that the adolescent street children’s self-image is hierarchical and multidimensional. Such self-image was found to be hendecagonal or eleven-sided. The eleven dimensions that emerged from the data are physical, vocational, social, familial, moral, social, sexual, ecological, spirito-religious, psychological and general self-image or self-esteem. Some adolescent street children appeared to have mainly negative self-image. Such negative self-image seemed to lead to a life of misery and hopelessness among the street children. The negative self-image among adolescent street children also seemed to lead to risky and self-destructive behaviours which included unsafe sexual activities, violence, criminality and substance abuse. However, other street children were found to have positive self-image and these children exhibited self-enhancing behaviours like schooling, church-going, job-seeking and family reunification. The streets, hence, appears to be a risky eco-developmental context, engendering the development of negative adolescent self-image. A multi-sectoral and multi-pronged programme for mitigating the challenges faced by street children is recommended. Such programme should encompass child-friendly services that provide education, food, shelter, family reunification, birth certificates, health services and legal assistance to be implemented by non-judgemental and well-trained personnel. It is imperative that such services to the street children should be designed to meet the individual street children’s dreams, needs and experiences and should enhance their self-respect and self-esteem. Female and weaker male street children should be protected from abuse in the streets. Finally the government should legally allow street children to work and live in the streets should it be in these children’s best interests.