All children in Kenya are potentially at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse; however, some groups are more vulnerable than others due to their gender, social status or geographical location. These are some of the observations of a joint Government of Kenya, UNICEF and Global Affairs Canada study (2015) titled: Taking Child Protection to The Next level in Kenya. The case study was part of a UNICEF global initiative, undertaken in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada to document national child protection frameworks in five countries: Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Mr. Daniel Arika

At the Makadara Children’s Centre, located in Bahati, Kamukunji sub-County, Nairobi, the Manager, Mr Daniel Arika knows this all to well.  At the time of the interview he was in charge of 170 boys rescued from Nairobi’s streets.

“We take care of vulnerable children within Nairobi but the majority of our clients are the street boys recued within Nairobi,” he says.  “We offer care and protection, food and a safe place to sleep at night for such children, but the best environment for every child is not in an institution but within a loving family.”

According to the Taking Child Protection to The Next level in Kenya (2015) study, children without parental care lack the protective environment and supervision that adult care normally provides. Children in large families may also lack parental attention and can become victims of neglect.

The study also noted that the situation of children is often worsened by the multiple deprivations that exist within certain population groups and communities, with gender inequality identified as a critical driver of deprivations in children’s rights in Kenya. This is because overall, women have a lower status than men, and female-headed households are more likely to be poor, where the children of mothers with no or little primary education are more likely to be deprived.

Approximately 3.6 million Kenyan children are orphans or otherwise classified as vulnerable. (Government of Kenya, Ministry for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Kenya Social Protection Sector Review, June 2012. The exact figure for orphans and vulnerable children is 3,612,679.)  Of these, 646,887 children are double orphans, that is, they have lost both parents to AIDS, or one parent to AIDS and another to a non-AIDS related cause.

The study noted that girls have unequal access to education overall, and their dropout rates tend to suffer from primary grade 7 onwards. Gender inequalities become more pronounced through adolescence. Specific protection concerns arise for girls during this time and are associated with vulnerability to violence, early marriage and pregnancy.

Other sources place the number of Kenyan children living on the streets at 300,000, with 60,000 of them in Nairobi. The International Needs Kenya (IN Kenya) charity also notes the life expectancy for a child on the street is 16 years and that rehabilitation takes time and dedication.

Mr Arika is in agreement with the charity in so far as removing a child off the streets.  The hard work involves taking the effects of the street life out of the child and restoring his/her dignity and recovering lost childhoods.  Street children face countless cruelties and violations to their rights including sexual exploitation and other cruel and demeaning actions against them.

“They have been exposed to extreme situations in the streets,” says Mr Arika, “We find them already addicted to drugs and other harmful substances, and because they are used by peddlers to push the trade on the streets, we are always aware that there will always be resistance to our efforts to bring children out of the streets.”

Even for children undergoing rehabilitation, the lure of the streets is an ever-present reality. Side-by-side with the provision of nutritious food, clean clothes and a comfortable bed, these children require intensive counselling, access to dedicated life-skills programs as well as education and healthcare.

The Centre’s partnership with Morrison Primary School is strategic in getting the rescued boys back into the school system, although many are old for their grades at the time of enrolment, those that are determined to change the course of their lives go on to thrive and excel in their school work.  Girls are rehabilitated at a centre in Kayole run by the County government of Nairobi.

“Our children are not always sure about their exact age, or even their names,” adds Mr Arika.  The Centre stands in for the registration of individual birth certificates – a requirement when booking children to take the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam in grade 8. “As the manager of this institution, I play the role of father to many of the children here, and my name is on numerous birth certificates,” he quips.

He is proud of the boys that have made a successful transition through primary to secondary school and onto tertiary level. But he never stops appealing to the communities in Kamukunji to reach out and offer support for the Centre.  “Bring us your old books,” he says, “come offer your time to tutor and mentor them during school breaks and in the evenings after school. Visit with the boys that made it to boarding secondary schools.”  Every positive action counts in the lives of these children.

He also cites sports as a great motivator for children adjusting to a life off the streets. “It builds up self-esteem and encourages them to withdraw from the drugs very fast.”

The 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Article 53) recognizes the need for all children to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment, punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour. It affirms that children have basic rights, including the right to education, nutrition, shelter, health care and parental care. These provisions align with both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Africa Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, to which Kenya is a signatory.