As you walk or drive through Kisumu City of Kenya you may be upset by the fast growing number of street children which has transformed the Millennium city into a hostile environment to investors, commuters and local residents. Many residents of the City have decried the menace of street children which has had far-reaching effects on the city's economic activities.
According to the business fraternity most of the children engage in unlawful activities like stealing, drug abuse and irresponsible behaviour, prostitution and homosexuality.
Street children have invaded eating joints in droves, becoming a public nuisance to customers keen to enjoy fish taken directly out of Lake Victoria and fried together with vegetables as customers view the impressive view of the lake from the shores.
As a result of this, fish selling and eating joints which have become the backbone of the city’s major business ventures are threatened with closure, as the street children harassed customers, begging or forcefully grabbed food and money from unsuspecting customers.
Investigations by the writer and an interview with Kisumu East District Children Officer (DCO), Jane Rono established that this problem posed real danger to numerous businesses due to insecurity attributed to marauding street families.
“We are working hard to reduce the number of street children,” Rono said. The DCO told us that reducing their number has proved to be a difficult task but expressed optimism that ultimately a solution will be forthcoming.
The problem require continuous spirited efforts if we hope curb the fast growing number of street urchins and take such children to various orphanages and probation facilities, although this cannot be achieved in a day, Rono pointed out.
She said most of the children are not in the streets by choice but forced out from their homes by circumstances beyond their control and relatives keen to disinherit them by grabbing family property soon after the demise of their parents.
“Lack of parental love, cruel treatment, neglect and lack of counselling are among the factors that facilitate the huge presence of street children in Kisumu City and other urban centres in Western Kenya region”, she confided.
However, she added, some children run amok and leave the comfort of their homes without necessarily having tangible reasons to justify their action, soon after developing a negative attitude towards education, responsibility and yearn for “freedom”.
One street boy, Othieno Morris (name changed) who hails from Siaya County said “life in the streets is not all that easy. I ran from home as there was no one to care for me since the demise of both parents in 2000”.
Asked how he managed to survive, Othieno said they sometimes have to pick pocket unsuspecting members of the public, beg for food and money despite hostilities from some people who in some instances beat them up.
On the other hand, he said, they have been involved in drug trafficking and abuse in the belief that it could earn them quick bucks a part from hardening them to weather the harsh environment only to compound their desperation in life.
“I roam about scavenging for food but sometimes have to grab fish, bananas, mangoes and other food stuffs from traders in town for survival. This could, however, end up in thorough beating, being lynched or get arrested by police,” he revealed.
Rono revealed how they liaised with Regular and Administration police as well as Kisumu Municipal Council in implementing strategic plans aimed at rescuing more children from the streets to rehabilitation centres and re-uniting them with relatives.
“This is not done independently but through Government support in collaboration with Charitable Children’s Institutions (CCIs) who offered them basic needs like safe custody (shelter), food and education”, She explained.
Kisumu County has one Remand home which acts as the collection centre for the Charitable Children Institutions. It offers counselling services and rehabilitative programs like Non Formal Education (NFE) which help them become independent.
An official at Kisumu Children’s Remand home said the program has made meaningful progress towards elimination of street children and keeping Kisumu City clean.
The officer who asked that his name be concealed, said they face numerous challenges, which include shortage of basic facilities like beddings, clothing’s and food due to the fast growing number which has outstripped their capacity.
“Kisumu Remand Home has 99 children way above its capacity of 60 children thus caused congestion”, she reiterated, adding “providing guidance and counselling to such a number who have adopted an idle and criminal lifestyle was quite difficult”.
She urged the Government to increase budgetary allocation for the program in order to make rehabilitation of such children successful, by making them feel comfortable and not revert to street life where they were exposed to all forms of danger.
Asked if such vulnerable children could be exposed to abuse in the CCIs, Rono said Government regulations were explicit to proprietors of such homes and anyone found flouting them will face the full force of the law.
“We have clear procedures to be followed when such organizations seek to adopt children brought under their custody for safe keeping”, she explained.
Rono said CCIs are not allowed to take children straight from the streets but should receive them from the Government through her department. “This is done to ensure that only genuine children benefit from this program", she added.
Rono said the Government did not give such children to CCIs and leave it at that but went further to establish whether the rescued children were well taken care of and helped to transform their lives.
“It would be futile taking these children to rehabilitation facilities and abandon them there. They would automatically go back to the streets and it would be so difficult to bring them back”, she revealed.
“Children’s’ department monitor these institutions once a month to ensure that they are well taken care of,” Rono said. She confided that the district has set a target of rescuing at least five children weekly.
The district’s statistics indicate that since February 2010 to date 168 children have so far been rescued from Kisumu streets.
If the trend continue, she said, it would take them a year to rescue all the projected 500 street children in Kisumu in a year.
Despite the progress, Rono said, they have to contend with challenges such as inadequate resources for the rehabilitation programme.
It was also difficult to convince street children who have attained 18 years and above to quit streets since they have adapted to such kind of lifestyle, she said.
Rono remains optimistic that with concerted efforts by Children’s Officers across the country, ultimately they will fulfil the Ministry’s mission of safeguarding the Rights and Welfare of all Children in Kenya through quality leadership in coordination, supervision and delivery of services.
Source: Africa News