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Street urchins in Kakamega

News

Innocent Wafula ragged hungry and perhaps rejected by the society. He is just but one of the many young street urchins who spend their nights on the streets of Kakamega.

Walls , rooftops, and pavements in buildings are what he calls home, at least for the last five or so years. If u thought they (street children) are always given blankets by Samaritans at night, you are wrong. The used polythene bags carelessly disposed near shopping centres are what they use as beddings at night.

At the age of 11 but has spent the better part of his life in the streets. He says that he was introduced to street life at the age of six by two of his friends who told him good things about street life. "Waliniahidi maisha ya huku itakuwa poa, pia chakula nyumbani ilikuwa ya kubahatisha",(food was not a guarantee at home moreover they told me I would not suffer )says the teenager. Innocent is just but one of the many children who have ended in the streets due to peer influence. He and others have to scavenge for scraps in the dustbins so as to put something in their stomach.

Describing the garbage as stinking and squalid place to Innocent is unfair so he thinks. He says human beings are 'stinking ' more than the garbage. This he refers to the stigma from the public. He narrates the number of times he has been chased away begging for food. According to him, hotel attendants feel their presence irritates and scares potential customers. He adds that he finds peace in dustbins since human eyes are not concentrated there.

Stigma

The society is unforgiving to street urchins. They are viewed with a lot of scorn and contempt. Many have been quick at judging them. It's important to note that not all of them (street urchins) ended in the streets as a result of peer pressure. Child abuse, neglect by guardians are some of the factors that have contributed to the increasing cases of street children.

It's intriguing to note that street children are denied access to medical care. As strange as it sounds it's a hard reality especially in public hospitals. Walking along Mumias road, I met Kevin Mutiso, a 33-year-old who has spent 21 years in the streets of Kakamega. Too old for street life, right? Kelvin born in Kangundo Machakos County Eastern Kenya ran from home in April 13th, 1996, to date he has not gone back. He left home after quarrels with his father over missing money. He looks feeble and older than his age, he has been sick for the last two weeks.

He said that he sought for medical attention in one of the public hospitals in the county but was sent away, reason he said well known to the nurses in that hospital. From the left pocket of his rusty shirt he pulleed out some drugs. According to him he bought the drugs to ease his pain. "Nameza dawa ili nipate nguvu ya kutafuta chakula ",(I take these drugs so as to get the strength to scavenge for food) said Mutiso.

"Hao vijana hata uwaombee hawatabadilika... leo watawadanganya wamebadilika...kesho mtindo ni ule ule ",(even if you pray for them they will not change) uneven voices from onlookers. The type of society that street children are exposed to. A society that had long despaired on instilling sanity into the lives of such people (street boys) instead thrives on instilling fear. People quick at pointing fingers at the expense of seeking solutions to mistakes.

Government and Stakeholders

The government has done very little to curb the increase of children in the streets in the country. In Nairobi, there are over sixty thousand street children according to UNICEF reports. The same report indicates that there are about 300,000 street children in the country. This is about 0.7 percent of the whole population in the country. For a country that is developing the numbers on the streets is worrying.

In 2014, the county government of Kakamega under the leadership of H. E. Wycliffe Oparanya rolled out a rehabilitation plan for street children in the county. This was in partnership with Salvation Army corps. Since the launch, nothing has been done. Perhaps this explains the growing number of centres street children gather and meet in Kakamega.

Political leaders across all divides have failed Kenyans in eradicating the menace. Our leaders drive along towns and streets they spot these children yet they ignore them. None has made a follow ups on the rehabilitation process. Politicians promise a lot during campaigns, but delivery has proven to be a tall order for many. The increase in street children impacts negatively on the security. The country cannot realise her full potential if a section of its population is ignored and denied access to opportunities such as education.

It is also a failure of the government that the children protection centre that was established over three years ago is not functional. The office next to Kakamega Rehabilitation School has employees who are paid for being in the office. From the ambiance to the new paintings of the buildings, if one is told the office is not operational, one would dispute. "The child protection Centre should be operational but the top officials have delayed the process,” reveals one of the employees.

Cartels

There are individuals who use street urchins for personal gains. The street urchins collect metallic waste then they are given few coins for the same. This has led to exploitation of some children.

Walking along Jua Kali estate in Kakamega town, I met a group of ten children sniffing glue as they scrambled for metals at a nearby dumpster. The love for money has attracted even young children into street life. The same way garbage collection is devolved to county government, the collection of metallic waste should be done by employees of county government. This can go a long way in reducing the influx of street children in the county.

Recommendation The exact number of street children in Kakamega may be hard to quantify since a number of them run from rehabilitation schools and homes. However, steps can be taken to remedy this menace. The energy and time wasted in the streets can be productively used elsewhere.

Proper rehabilitation strategies should be enforced so that street urchins do not escape rehabilitation homes and schools.

The government should scout for psychologists and psychiatrists to train, counsel and monitor the development of the children from streets who have undergone rehabilitation.

The government should set up more rehabilitation schools, centres, and homes. There are only twelve rehabilitation schools in the country. More rehabilitation schools accommodate many children.

It takes goodwill and commitment from political leaders, government, and stakeholders to rehabilitate street children.

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