A workshop in Naivasha last week was grappling with the heart-wrenching plight of street children and families and how to stem the surging numbers.
Even as the Cabinet secretary for Labor and Social Welfare Ukur Yattani challenged the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund to come up with a Street Families Bill, sound policies and sustainable programs, there are no easy answers to the issue which is nonetheless a ticking social bomb.
The street children and families are a by-product of poverty, failing social structures and urbanization catalyzed by complex socio-economic dynamics. The children are the epitome of society tottering on the moral edge. Their proliferation casts a cloud over the nation with dire social and security implications.
Solution must start from some policy direction and multisectoral engagement to stem the increase in vulnerable children and other social drawbacks.
Trust fund chairperson Lucy Yinda conceded that over years, they had worked with the figure of 250,000 as the number of street families nationally with Nairobi having 60,000. It’s impossible to tell what the current population is because the census conducted last year by the National Bureau of Statistics in partnership with Unicef for the purpose of rolling out rehabilitation programs is yet to reveal the numbers. Whether the bill Yattani suggested will be the silver bullet is difficult to tell. Truth is, mere legislation has not been the solution to our many challenges.
A country’s future is its children. But how can this be possible with hundreds of thousands of children roaming the streets bereft of social skills, ethical direction and uninsulated from danger and harm?
The Children’s Act is unambiguous yet colonies of children roam Nairobi and other urban streets like vultures as dusk sets in, some still toddlers, purporting to be selling sweets or peanuts. The bigger ones are predictably predisposed to being aggressive in their quest to survive or fend for themselves. And whereas some of them are acting out of truancy, the majority find themselves in the streets because social deprivation. A significant number are without parents or are from dysfunctional homes; victims of abuse and neglect.
Those (un)lucky to be born — the recent reports of bodies of babies dumped in Nairobi River are confined to a trajectory of dehumanization, deprived of hope yet like any children, the street kids too, crave for care and attention. The streets are harsh and depraved environment fraught with dangers ranging from starvation, violence, crime, drugs and sexual exploitation.
The children we turn our noses up at are, not surprisingly, sucked into anti-social behavior and crime, including mugging and prostitution.
Counties and National governments must come up with strategies that ideally should lead to humanizing and re-socializing the children beyond just carting them away and temporarily detaining them at some rehabilitation centers, more so whenever important guests and conference delegates are in town. Meanwhile, foreigners and impostors who seek succor from Kenyan streets must be relocated.
We have seen such sporadic efforts, most notably when then Vice President Moody Awori in 2004 set centers where they were taken to and indeed a number were rehabilitated and even ended up being absorbed in the National Youth Service. In other words, there have been some success stories but these are negligible. The plans for rehabilitating the vulnerable groups must include resource allocation underpinned by clear policy regimen.
In a burst of patriotism and paternal zeal, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko last year pledged to assist with jobs placement as part of rehabilitation efforts, amid reports that 2,000 might have been beneficiaries.
But the initiative became a cropper because the numbers keep growing. The elephant in the room is inability of the economy to create jobs and opportunities to match demand.
So when Yatani talks of plans to relocate 42,000 street families, it is taken with a pinch of salt in a country where nearly 40 per cent of youth are unemployed, underemployed or unemployable.