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Abandoned children paraded in hope of finding their families

By Nasibo Kabale | Updated Thu, May 18th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3

These children were paraded at the Milimani courts recently as the authorities tried to find their families. [George Njunge, Standard]

No one knows his age or even if Chris is indeed his name because since the police found him near Lang'ata Cemetery on March 13 this year, he has not said much.

Chris, who is staying at the Nairobi Rescue Centre in Lower Kabete, looks to be about two-and-a-half years old. He has little recollection of where he lived before, making it difficult for the justice system to track his family. He rushes to say hello but when asked how old he is, he simply smiles and looks down.

Dressed in blue jeans and jacket, he plays with the other children in the home who are aged between three and six years. Chris is the youngest of the 40 children who were Wednesday paraded at the Milimani courts in efforts to locate their families.

They are brought to Milimani from two homes in Nairobi in the hope that someone can identify them and maybe reunite them with their families.

"We do this every two months in the hope that the press can assist in finding their families," said Margret Sandiri, a children's officer.

If no one identifies him, Chris will be back in two months for another media outreach and if that yields no results, he will be brought back for the last time.

Tracing families

If the child is not identified in six months, he enters the child welfare system, which sends him to a home.

"He has to go to a home and maybe even start school and because this is just temporary housing offered for only six months," said Sandiri.

This is the card that life has dealt Chris and others like him and because they are so young, it is difficult for them to tell what life has in store for them. However, Purity Wangari seems to know what she wants. She whispers about her dreams of going back to school one day.

"I want you to help me go back to school. I can even write my name you know," says Wangari.

She does not know her age but she tells tales of how her mother physically assaulted her and abandoned her in Mukuru kwa Njenga slums, where she once lived. Police and the Nairobi Remand Home have made several attempts to return her to Mukuru but have not been able to locate her family.

"She, like most of the older children from the remand home, are mentally challenged. Their parents simply want to escape their responsibilities," said Sandiri.

Children's act

If Wangari does not find her family soon, she will be integrated into the system, even after she turns 18.

"We cannot chase them away because they have special needs and even if they become adults they still run the risk of abuse," said Sandiri.

Three-year-old Anthony Amachi looks on indifferently as the other children take their tea and slice of bread, waiting for someone to bring his meals to him.

His mother, Margret Muthoni, is in court for child neglect, but gets an opportunity to see her child.

According to Muthoni, her son got burnt while playing with her employer's child. She insists she is innocent.

Although the Children's Act, which safeguards the rights of every child, took effect on March 1, 2002, legal representation for the minors in court cases is rare.

Only a handful of lawyers are willing to fight for the rights of children without pay. Therefore, most such cases are taken up by non-governmental organisations that in many cases drop out midway in the process.

Sometimes the Law Society of Kenya takes up such matters but since there is no State-paid legal aid system in Kenya or clear provisions on how such cases can be funded, courts assign pro bono lawyers to take up such matters.

"Life is hard for children who are victims," said Sandiri.

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