Survey: Half of Kenyan children born in poverty

Shirley Poriot, a standard one teacher at Nalekat Primary teaching her pupils under a tree while holding the blackboard to prevent it from falling. [Photo by Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Half of Kenyan children are born into abject poverty and, sadly, have few prospects of ever breaking the cycle of destitution.

Simply put, they will most likely grow into poor adults who will bring forth another poverty-stricken generation.

These are the shocking findings of the first ever study on child poverty. An estimated 9.5 million children were in the category when the survey was carried out two years ago, with indications the numbers may have soared since.

“We need to address child poverty or shackle these kids for the rest of their lives,” said Werner Schultink, the country boss of Unicef, the United Nations agency that looks out for children.

Mr Schultink was speaking at the launch of a report on Child Poverty in Kenya, which listed Turkana, Wajir and Tana River as the worst counties to be born in.

“Helping those children avoid poverty and overcome its damaging effects will make a huge difference to their lives, their families and ultimately the country,” he added.

Schultink’s fears about bondage to poverty are informed by realities that such children would ordinarily miss out on education for lack of school fees.

Schooling is touted as the single most important breaker of the poverty cycle.

Planning Principal Secretary Julius Muia said devolution had accelerated the delivery of essential services to marginalised regions, prospectively helping more households pull themselves out of poverty.

“We would not have this situation had we started with devolution at independence,” Dr Muia said.

Researchers looked beyond just lack of money in their study and classification of child poverty, which they described as one of the dimensions of deprivation.

Nearly a third of the children under six years covered in the study were stunted as a result of severe malnutrition.

About 24,000 households were surveyed, with findings revealing widening inequality among the different counties.

Nairobi, which controls more than half of the country’s productivity, has the least proportion of children growing up in want.

The findings found 30 per cent of children were moderately stunted.

Only seven out of 100 children in the city lack the six basic needs considered in the research, which include proper sanitation. Inherently, their families would be living in a slum.

In Turkana, nine out of every 10 children are either facing starvation, lack shelter or cannot readily access healthcare.

A respondent interviewed by the researchers in Turkana cited the tragedy of water shortage as among the biggest problems.

“I wish we could have taken you down to our interior. You will find that most of our learners are learning in sheds or under trees,” said an education official from Turkana.

Wajir, Garissa and Marsabit came closely behind Turkana in child poverty.

Despite free primary and secondary school education, the current school enrolment rates are still below half.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich said the findings on poverty would inform future policy directions, including revenue sharing in disbursement to counties.

He added that the findings released yesterday indicated that the country’s economic development was trickling down to the households as absolute poverty had dropped by a tenth.