he following words uttered by Matthew Roy Blunt, former Governor of Missouri State in the US, remind us of our constitutional obligation to protect our children: “Child abuse and neglect offend the basic values of our state. We have a responsibility to provide safe settings for at-risk children and facilitate permanent placement for children who cannot return home.”
Our urban streets are crawling with homeless children. The phenomenon of child poverty is widespread, beyond what is seen on the streets.
In what is clearly failed parenting, children as young as one year old, are being used by their parents to beg.
The latest trend is the use of children with disability as begging machines either by parents or relatives and thus effectively denying these young souls their human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized as stated in the Constitution.
The current Constitution was informed by Kenya Government’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in July 30, 1990. This was lauded as a bold step towards the domestication of the CRC.
Kenya even went further by enacting the Children Act (Cap 586 Laws of Kenya), which came into force on March 1, 2002. The enactment of the Children Act demonstrated that the country was ready to begin the process of effective protection of Kenya’s children. The law was supposed to address among other things:
Provision for parental responsibility, fostering, adoption, custody, maintenance, guardianship, care and protection of children; provision for the administration of children’s institutions; and giving effect to the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and for connected purposes.
The law’s date of commencement was March 1, 2002.
SLAVES OF POVERTY
In spite of all these interventions, children, both abled and disabled, are being used as slaves of poverty.
There is a fundamental difference between an adult and a child in begging. While children have no capacity to decide the indignity of begging, adults do. Further, there are provisions for children protection by the state.
Yet law makers watch on a daily basis the dignity of children who have no capacity to make decisions on their own being eroded by abusive relatives.
Poverty erodes the dignity of the people. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that indignity is not passed on to future generations through our children. That is why the law provides for the administration of children’s institutions.
A nation’s number one resource is human beings, some of whom we are watching waste away in the streets. If these children end up without an education and an opportunity to change the fortunes of their families, we are simply courting trouble as they will eventually end up in crime. Our future safety is dependent on what we do with our children today.
The tragedy, however, is the growing trend of irresponsibility on the part of some parents. No explanation is acceptable for this trend.
Poverty has been with us and we must make every effort to end it. Many working Kenyans, particularly those born before and just after independence went through poverty, with barely one meal a day, and walked long distances to school barefoot.
However, our parents had pride in providing leadership that made many of us what we are today.
Over time, with the loss of culture and the rise of dysfunctional homes, that pride is gone.
It is the village that used to raise children but today young women carry the burden of raising the children alone without the community support.
Some of the women are too young to look after children. Studies show that they feel worthless, have low self-esteem and self-respect. The result is what we see in the streets.
Academics too have failed to highlight the dynamic social changes and design future social systems.
With the little knowledge we have, we can change this developing national shame. In my past volunteer work that involved training women (formerly prostitutes) to transition to entrepreneurship, we virtually restored the dignity of the participants through enabled autonomy – the ability to create their own income to meet their daily needs.
The successful ones began to take care of their children and enrolled them in schools.
A few had a lot of difficulty adjusting. Sometimes, they relapsed into the oldest profession. It became clear that restoration of dignity does not always have a relationship with levels of income. The damage to dignity, especially to children, could have a long-term effect that can never be altered.
In my view, we can take care of many social problems we face if the leaders take their responsibility seriously, especially by looking into the welfare of the children as the law provides.
The counties bear the responsibility of ensuring welfare for children but none that I know has budgeted for the strict implementation of the law and guaranteed inclusivity.
It is vital that the governors carry the sense of shame and begin to deal with the problem of child poverty and abuse.
Hugh Masekela sang in his famous song Send Me (Thuma Mina):
“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around
When they triumph over poverty
I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS
I wanna lend a hand
I wanna be there for the alcoholic
I wanna be there for the drug addict
I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse
I wanna lend a hand
In the same way let’s be there for children that are abused. Let’s lend a hand and we shall triumph.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito