Monday, May 21, 2012

Jane fends for her family: The Citizen Newspaper Children's reporter: GRAEME HOSKEN | 21 May, 2012 00:06

With her mother dead, her father unemployed, fending for the family rests on her.
"I want to be happy. I just want to be a normal child. I want to go to school. I want to play with my friends. Can you help me? Please can you help me?"
This is Jane's plea.
Wearing a tattered tracksuit top, Jane rocks her crying sister in her pram, embarrassed as she tidies herself up, trying to hide her broken shoes beneath papers littering the ground.
Jane and her three-year-old sister are up early, helping their father get ready to look for work before searching the Randfontein landfill site for food before sunrise.
"I am a clever girl. When I was in school I knew all the answers. I did all my homework and my teacher said I was good. I want to be a teacher."
Standing up straight and bragging, Jane said her teacher told her that when she was "big" she could be a teacher.
"When I am a teacher I will make sure that all children go to school, even the naughty ones.
"School is good and all children must go to school," she said.
Prevented from attending school for the last three years because her birth registration documents were destroyed in a fire, Jane is now the "head" of her household.
"I don't want to be here. I don't want to do this. I want to go back to school. I miss playing with my friends. I want to be happy. I want to be normal," she said.
But her life does not allow a carefree passage into adulthood.
Her responsibilities are huge, unbearable to witness. She has to help her father keep the family together. Her tasks include scavenging for food and looking after her sister while her father searches for work during the day.
At night, she prepares supper and puts her sister to bed, keeping an eye on her in case she cries for her mother.
Looking at me, she asks: "Are you happy? Do you have children? Have they got a mommy? Tell them you love them and make them happy."
Her words are too wise and painful for a 15-year-old. But then again, this is no ordinary teenager.
*Names have been changed.

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