As Kenya goes to the poll tomorrow, let us spare a minute to think about the children who form almost half the population of Kenya. Children are categorised as vulnerable groups in Article 53(1)d of the Constitution and every child has the right to be protected from, among other things, all forms of violence.
While children do not participate directly in elections, particularly in the voting processes, they are not exempt from consequences of a poorly managed election.
Our history is dotted with incidences in which children became collateral damage in matters that had little to do with them. And this is attributable to failure by election stakeholders to take measures to ensure transparent and credible elections, or citizens causing chaos when their expectations are not met.
There are mixed feelings among voters, ranging from anxiety, aggression, excitement and fear. Children also feel these. Cases have been reported of children falling prey to political games and manipulation, as political actors, parents and guardians took advantage of them in their attempt to emotionally influence the electorate.
Pictures of politicians visiting schools, student choirs performing at political events, or student council representatives being influenced by politicians to campaign for a particular political formation are just some examples of the violations of children’s rights for political gain.
Children have continually borne the brunt of violence and anarchy that result from poorly managed elections. We are reminded of the brutal killing of baby Samantha Pendo and Stephanie Moraa Nyarangi, a nine-year-old girl, who was shot while standing on the balcony of her family’s apartment, just to mention a few. Children suffer when the population is displaced. Children are exposed to the dangers of harsh weather and suffer from hunger among other difficulties arising from chaotic elections.
And contrary to the common belief that children are no longer affected after the violence subsides, research reveals that children still suffer many years after being exposed to violence.
Thus, even short-term exposure to political violence may have long-lasting effects on children. Some have been diagnosed with increased aggression, erratic and delinquent behaviour, irregular sleep patterns, disturbed play and learning difficulties among other conditions.
Research by the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy revealed that children have shown increased delinquent and aggressive behaviours, including bullying, vandalism, stealing and skipping school years after they have been exposed to violence.
This finding is buttressed by a study by the Department of Psychology, the University of Anbar, College of Education, Iraq, that the impact of violence on a child’s future psychological well-being depends on their age, coping mechanisms, and cognitive and verbal abilities.
Children feel secure and thrive in peaceful communities. The laws of Kenya recognise this fact, vide the provision that every child has the right to live, grow and develop in a safe environment and the right to protection from violence.
Therefore, there is a need to remain sensitive to the plight of children even as we exercise our civic rights. This call is also for the voting public – it is our collective responsibility to carry ourselves in a way that does not instigate or promote violence.
Children should also be protected from all forms of violence that visit election periods, by ensuring that all stakeholders involved in the election process carry out their responsibilities in the best way possible to deliver a peaceful transition; a transition without violence, loss of life and free of threats to the lives of the children, who are he future of this great republic.
We owe the children of this great republic a peaceful transition.