Street Children in Kenya: The United Nations has defined the term ‘street children’ to include “any boy or girl… for whom the street in the widest sense of the word … has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults.”
Nairobi’s street children are easily recognised with their trademark sacks slung over their backs, searching through dustbins. They are branded “chokora” or scavengers.
In order to survive on the streets, young people often beg, carry luggage, or clean business premises and vehicles. Others earn some money by collecting waste paper, bottles, and metals for recycling.
The children sometimes assist the city council cleaners in sweeping and collecting garbage.
Below are some of the reasons why these children end up in the streets.
1.Abandoned children.Some street children just found themselves in the streets.They were not given a chance to choose whether to live in the streets or not.You see,irresponsible parents go and dump innocent children in the streets knowing very well that they are hurting their future.The problem is the fact that such parents don’t care about their children simply because they don’t want to be responsible parents.
2.Some children are born in the streets.Unlike other children who are born elsewhere and who later relocate into the streets,street children don’t know of any home apart from the streets.They are born,raised and live in the streets.Their families consist of fellow street children and sometimes,their parents.
3.Some children run away from their homes.Some children run away from their parents for a variety of reasons which include the following.
a.Some may have experienced traumatic conditions in their homes.They are treated harshly and unfairly by their parents and other family members. b.Family disintegration.Family disintegration leads to a weaker family unit.In such a family,parents may be irresponsible and not caring.This makes children to prefer living in the streets.
4.Glamour of big cities.Some children are attracted to the glamour of big cities.They think that life in the city is great only for them to end up suffering.They believe that life in the city is a bed of roses only for them to go through untold pain,misery and suffering.
5.Irresponsible society.Sometimes,you find that children are orphans and are left in the hands of the society.Instead of the members of the society to take care of these children,they mistreat them.These children then opt to live in the streets.
They are thrust into a bleak, harsh and depraved environment often fraught with constant and sustained danger in various forms such as:
- Violence amongst themselves and towards others
- Drug taking and trafficking
- Sexual exploitation accompanied by a high risk of contracting STIs and HIV/AIDS
- Loneliness and fear
- Physical and emotional abuse and neglect
- Exposure to the elements
- Early, unplanned and uncontrolled pregnancy and parenthood
- Poor hygienic and sanitation conditions
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Experts believe that juvenile justice in Kenya is still one of the main problems the government needs to address, as ill-treatment in prison is in violation of child and youth rights.
Verbal and physical abuse from the community and the police are some of the most common problems the street children face every day.
The police make arbitrary arrests of children for various reasons: loitering, carrying illegal weapons, refusing to give in to sexual demands, or being rude to police officers.
Once in police custody, the harassment of these children continues and sometimes worsens. Abuse ranges from being insulted, beaten, kicked, and detained, to sexual abuse and rape.
“The detention centre is often so crowded that there is no separate cell for adults and children. The food they give is not enough or dirty. And there is only one bucket as a toilet for everybody,” said Ndegwa.
Omondy was arrested by the police for the possession of a pen knife.
“At the police station I was beaten so many times. I was forced to make a false statement for a crime I didn’t do. There was no mattress or blanket to sleep on. I slept on the cold floor in my t-shirt and my shorts only. We were not allowed to go to the toilet, there was only one bucket for everybody if we need to go to toilet,” he told IRIN.
“I’m scared of the police because I’ve heard many children have gone through very bad experiences while they were in detention,” he added.
Children are held in detention in remand homes or detention centres before receiving a trial. If they are subsequently found guilty they are sent to rehabilitation schools, for children who are under 15, or to borstal or prison if they are above 15-years-old.
“Conditions at the remand homes or at the approved schools are sometimes as bad as in police cells. But at the prison or borstal the situation is far worse. In some cases, children are put together in the adult prison due to lack of space, or because they were assumed to be adults by the judge,” said Ndegwa.
“There are reports of children being handcuffed to beds, stripped naked and beaten. Sometimes children are not allowed to eat, or their food is withheld as a form of punishment. They are often subject to sex abuse or sodomy by the guards or older youth,” she added.