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Education hangs in the balance for girls who have overstayed in approved schools

By Harold Odhiambo | August 6th 2021

A young girl at the Kisumu Remand Home. [Harold Odhiambo]

Thirteen-year-old Anne Anyango (not her real name) sits quietly on a slab as she gathers her knitting materials before beginning to bead a necklace at the Kisumu Remand Home. She demonstrates astute delicate crocheting skills as she picks the beads and a piece of string slowly transforms into a beautiful beaded neckless. This was her third neckless for the day.

A few months ago, she lived her life normally as a Form Three student at a school in the Gusii region and undertaking her formal education before a dark cloud hovered over her academic life and disrupted her learning.

She was brought to the facility after being considered beyond parental control and is among the girls at the facility who have been compelled to settle to a new life devoid of formal education. A few metres from where she sat, a group of child offenders, those in contact with the law and witnesses under protection were busy cutting vegetables. Three of the girls are suspects in active murder cases in court.

They are among the girls whose quest for formal education hangs in a balance after they were taken to the approved school. Some whose cases have been completed are going through rehabilitation.

Just like other normal school-going children, one could easily tell their hunger to learn although their current situation has left them in a state of uncertainty.

Some delays in the legal systems have compelled some of them to overstay their welcome in correctional facilities, derailing their normal learning. Although the situation is slowly improving, the Covid-19 period worsened the situation for the minors detained in approved schools.

So dire is the situation that about a month ago, it caught the attention of Chief Justice Martha Koome who said that the gaps in the legal system will be addressed in her term to ensure that the children do not overstay at the correctional facilities. According to Koome, no child should be in approved schools because they belong to homes. She vowed to ensure that the number of children in contact with the law is reduced.

Interviews with several stakeholders including prison officials, officials from the children’s department, some of the children as well as the Law Society of Kenya established that there are concerns of children overstaying in approved schools.

When The Standard visited Kisumu Remand Home which houses the child offenders, the children were busy undertaking different activities. The institution does not offer formal education for the children being held there but teaches the children various skills meant for adults.

A social worker at the institution who asked not to be named told The Standard that the girls at the center are taught how to make beads, liquid soaps and bar soaps. They are also taught farming even as their age mates enjoy formal education.

“It is unfortunate because their education is interrupted. They are still young and being taught things meant for adults conditions them differently,” says the social worker.

At the approved school, there is only a single teacher who trains them on reading and writing.

This means that despite their age difference with some of the children taken at the center while in High school, they are compelled to learn only the basics.

One of the child offenders told The Standard that she hopes to continue with her education even when she is still at the center.

“I wish we could be allowed to learn other subjects like our colleagues in normal schools,” says the child.

For the children, their hope is to continue with their education normally even though some of them admit that they understand why they are at the facility. They believe that they are missing a lot.

At the institution, nine girls are being held for various reasons while some are witnesses in defilement cases. When Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, some of the child witnesses under protection at the facility were forced to overstay after failing to testify in courts for their cases.

This came as punishment for the children, some of whom were victims of defilement whose lives were disrupted by the unfortunate acts at the hands of the rogue attackers and also failed by the slow legal system.

According to the institution’s manager, Mark Kea, although courts have been trying to speed up cases where children are involved, there have been cases where cases have dragged leading to children spending more time at the remand home.

“We do not have formal education at the remand home but we are training the children” he says.

Kea cites the Covid-19 situation as a reason that delayed some of the cases involving children at the institution. He notes that although reintegration with families has been seamless for some girls, for others it has been difficult especially when the children are reluctant to return to their homes. “In some of the cases of children who do not want to go back home, we have always investigated and found out that there is a history of abuse,” he says.

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