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Analytical discusion the street children of kenya

The education of the world's children is high on the global agenda. In the context of education for all (EFA), all children should receive free, good quality education. The reality is that millions of the world's children are too poor to benefit from the declaration, unless there are special interventions that target their development. Unfortunately, such children do not form a special social category in poverty eradication intervention programmes. Thus, their inclusion in the achievement of (EFA) appears to be a hit-or-miss phenomenon. Recognizing the
central role of poverty eradication in wider global agendas and acknowledging the need to reach out to the poorest children with the objective to break the poverty cycle.

Findings reflect that children in abject problems can be recognized by rather elementary (as opposed to sophisticated) criteria. Top on the list is absence of basic necessities such as shelter, food, clothing and water. Equally important is the 'human condition' in terms of physical health and parental care and protection. Schooling is high on the list as a critical criterion in determining who is extremely or modestly a vulnerable and disadvantaged child, due to the participatory and consultative reviews it undergoes regularly, does not address many of the development challenges disadvantaged children face today. It would take lobbying and advocacy interventions to ensure that the needs and demands of children in abject poverty are met.

There are several differing statistics about the number of street children in Nairobi Kenya. A study commissioned by the consortium of street children (CSC) brings some shocking statistics:

  • In 1999 it was reported that there were over 50,000 street children in Nairobi and the government estimated that their numbers grew at 10% per year.
  • In 2001 it was stated that conservative estimates indicated that 300,000 children live and work on the streets in Kenya, with over 50% of them concentrated in and around the capital Nairobi
  • In 2001 another report estimated that there were about 40,000 street children in Kenya, with about half concentrated in Nairobi Kenya.
  • It was estimated in 2007 that there were 250,000 – 300,000 children living and working in the streets across Kenya, with more than 60,000 of them in Nairobi

The day of the street children starts as early as 4:00 am. They wake up and walk for long distances in the estates hoping to gather and earn. The children are divided into groups,
each entrusted with a task for the day. This can be anything from rooting through the garbage skips, visiting the abattoir for food left overs, collecting scrap metal and plastics to sell. They are also expected to return with money, leading to their daily street begging that we are all witness to. However, we are not witness to the beating some kids receive when returning home empty-handed because no kind relative has flicked them a grubby coin or two. At around 8:00 pm the
children return home and hand in their day's earnings and gatherings. They will get a small meal if they are lucky and then go to bed, ready to start the whole onslaught the next
day. Some children do not even have a
family to return to; classed as 'full-time' they are runaways and occupy the streets sleeping in sacks or polythene bags outside in the open air or in dumping sites twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Many suffer from depravity, diseases, hunger and abuse. We see newborns to teenagers and families headed by children." I have witnessed five-year-olds living alone on the street and even seen teenage girls who have spent their whole life on the streets having their own babies while homeless. I have also come across numerous abandoned babies. They have been found on the street, in dustbins, tied up in plastic bags and found in pit latrines and swamps.

Street children are often subject to abuse, teenage pregnancy, prostitution, loss of lives, hunger, malnutrition, neglect , exploitation, or in extreme cases, murder by " clean-up squads " that have been hired by local businesses or police, and also a variety of diseases can be picked up from the streets.

Girls generally tend to be invincible in most studies on street children. The recent study of street families in Nairobi central business district commissioned by the NCBDA in 2001 states that boys outnumber girls nine to one.

However, according to the findings of a study (Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) for SNV/Kenya and Germany Technical Cooperation (GTZ) that covered 12 locales in Nairobi District girls constitute on average about 25 percent of the population of children counted in Nairobi District. In Mukuru, Dandora/ Mali Saba and Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani, the proportions are even higher (40%, 31% and 28% respectively). Disaggregation on the findings by age reveals a narrower gender gap in the under-five age bracket.

As many as 45 percent of the under-five children were found to be females. While boys survive on collecting garbage, and help load and unload market goods, earning them up to 80 Ksh (US $1) a day, girls are forced to resort to prostitution in order to get clothes or food. According to 2004 report form, The Cradle and The Undugu Society, they earn as little as 10 or 20 Ksh ($ 0.30 -0.50) for each client.

The same research reveals the dominance of eleven to fifteen year olds on the street of Nairobi, constituting over 50 percent of some of the recorded cases. The children below the age of five constitute 7 percent of the total study sample .

The study exposed that the majority of the children, regardless of gender, identify themselves as Agikuyu. However, it also suggests that the Kikuyu among the street children may have been grossly exaggerated in other studies. While the Kikuyu constitute a significant proportion (46%) of all ethnic groups represented among the non-Kikuyu in the street children population, put together, is more in number. This not withstanding most of the children on the street can speak the kikuyu language. Other than kikuyu, knowledge of Kiswahili was found to be almost universal next the ‘Sheng’- their own street language.

Overall, only 39.5 percent of the children counted and interviewed for the above mentioned study were attending school while an overwhelming number of children were not participating in any formal or non-formal education. Nevertheless a total of 48.5 percent of the Girls and 36.5 percent of the boys claimed to be involved in some form of educational program. In Korogocho, 56.2 percent of the boys claimed to be going to school. The highest number of children who claimed to be going to school fell within the age bracket of 11-15 years translating to 56.71 percent of the total number of respondents.

Unemployment among parents of the street children is quite high. Almost a quarter of the street children claim that their mothers do not work whereas less than a tenth says that their fathers do not. Analyses of the parental occupation suggest that these are boring, poorly paying and often high labor intensive jobs.

The implication of this may be many including inability to meet basic family obligations leading to broken homes, high incidences of child neglect and abandonment, absentee parenthood and a tendency to encourage children to obtain employment by any means in order to supplement the family income.  This view is supported by the findings that indicate that children are sent out to the streets to earn a living for themselves and even to support other members of the family.

Most unemployed mothers are said to be involved in petty trading while the fathers are reportedly doing more skilled but also unskilled manual work, farming, illicit brewing, and begging for a living. Others do professional/ premises, thievery/ robbery or engaged in commercial sex work for a living. The percentage of girls with non-working parents is higher than that of boys (6.8% of the female responses and 17.1% of the male responses for the mother’s occupation; 2.8% of the female and 6.9% of the male responses). A number of children do not know anything about their parents’ occupations.

Many of the children claim that their parents are either deceased or have abandoned them. Abandonment by or death of fathers is found to be more common than abandonment by or death of mothers. The implication is that there are more single mothers than there are fathers. The death of either or both parent and abandonment in turn increases the likelihood off children turning or being turned out to the streets because of limited or no resources for their sustenance within the extended family settings. Children either orphaned or abandoned are found to be among those who have found permanent residence on the streets (approximately 14% of the total sample). Among the children of the streets, over 65 percent are male. Most of the children who identified to be fully with the streets are to be found in Mukuru and City center.

63 percent of the children have been on the streets either on a part time or full time basis for up to 5 years. Over 12 percent have been on the streets for between 6-10 years while another 13 percent cannot remember when they had started to frequent the streets which brings  to light the insight of those born on the streets.

The study we referred to earlier found that children were on the streets for a variety of reasons the major ones being, in order of frequency: to earn money, search for food and/or look for recreation- all described in the language of the street children as “pull” factors. These pull factors are symptomatic for children from economically poor families who suffer from lack of adequate attention and care at home as their parents spend most  of their time and energy in securing the mere survival. It is also not surprising that “domestic violence featured as one key “push” factor for Streetism
Significantly none of the children cite ‘sex’ as a reason for being on the streets. It is probable that of necessity rather than on their own desire, once on the streets children are introduced into sexual activity either for recreation or money or they are being forced into it and/or raped.

Once on the streets others initiate the children into Streetism in order for them to survive. Children’s rights are violated constantly as they are often harassed and exploited and they exploit others in turn. In absence of adult care and guidance they are forced to assume adult responsibilities and take care of themselves and sometimes their siblings and fellow children at a tender age out of necessity they have to look for work and they are easy to exploit trough too little or sometimes no pay. They are thrust into a depressing, harsh and immoral environment often fraught with constant and sustained danger various forms such as:

  • Harassment
  • Violence among 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
  • Starvation
  • Exposure to elements
  • Early, unplanned and uncontrolled pregnancy and parenthood
  • Poor hygienic and sanitation conditions

Interviews with the members of the security forces and the public and the children themselves show that children that they are unfairly blamed by members of the public for theft, robbery and other infractions of the law. Often they are beaten and harassed for real or imagined misbehavior.

The younger children, especially boys identify the police as among the persons feared most because they continually harass them. Girls fear the older street boys mostly because they pimp them and organize gang rapes sometimes ‘to teach them a lesson’ if they decline to have sex with someone, break up with someone or as mere punishment.

The girls report that they could be taken advantage of and being gang raped if they merely visit another base and they are known to be unmarried [without a boyfriend protecting them]. Younger children expressed fears of being stolen/ abducted and often feel insecure when strangers approach them. The older girls talk of colleagues who have been sexually molested and subjected to bestiality. These experiences heighten their sense of insecurity and vulnerability.

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