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Why children’s homes are mines for the lost

By | April 28th 2010

By Michael Oriedo

Innocent eyes and tenderly smiles welcome one into a room packed with children at Nairobi Children’s Home (NCH) in Kabete.

The children jump, push and pull as they struggle to catch the attention of every visitor. As one endeavours to respond to dozens of greetings all uttered without harmony, one gets a feeling of a big happy family.

However, the children are diverse. Aged between a day and six years, they are among a growing number of children in the country whose families consider them lost without a trace while some are abandoned by their parents.

Do you know any of these children? These are among dozens of children who cannot trace their parents and who are in Nairobi Children’s Home waiting for their relatives to find them. {PHOTO/ MICHAEL ORIEDO/STANDARD}

They are housed temporarily at NCH as its administrators frantically try to locate their parents.

"We now have over 90 children. Last week they were 79 but we received about 11 more this week," says Jane Njoki, a children’s officer at the institution.

Statistics from the home indicate that many children are finding themselves abandoned by their parents.

"We receive children from the courts at least thrice a week. Our facilities are overstretched but we cannot reject them," adds Njoki.

Normally, the institution is supposed to house between 50 and 60 children, but currently it has about 100 children majority of who are aged below five years. This growing number of children in need of care and protection is now worrying authorities at the home.

"Some are genuinely lost and their parents may be searching for them, but we also have many who are abandoned," she says. "We have been unable to get their parents despite holding several identification parades at the Children’s Courts."

Parents’ shame

Investigations reveal that most of the children are abandoned in public places, churches and near police stations where people can easily find and assist them.

Some parents even have the courage to drag their children to police stations and abandon them there pretending that they are Good Samaritans bringing in lost children.

One such case is that of one-year-old Lemuel Gideon who was abandoned in a hair salon in Nairobi’s Kawangware area. According to documents from Nairobi Children’s Department, Lemuel’s mother left him on February 2, in the hands of a woman who she duped that she was going to purchase a household item at a nearby shop. However, she never returned.

"The woman reported the matter at Dagoretti Children’s office. An officer then took him to the children’s court, which later committed him to this home. He was barely a year when he came here," she says.

Like Lemuel, five-year-old Risper Wanjira too suffered the same fate. Her mother locked her in their house in Dagorretti area on January 8, 2008 and disappeared.

"She was then two and a half years old. Neighbours rescued her from the house after a week where her mother had left her," says Njoki. A children’s officer thereafter took her to court, which in turn committed her at NCH to receive protection.

Stranded children

The story is no different for five-year-old Mariah Mutahi and Nyokabi Muthoni. Police found them stranded in Muthaiga area, Nairobi in March last year.

"They took them to a nearby children’s home where they stayed for a week hoping that somebody would come to claim them," says Njoki. Like the others, the two ended up at the home through the children’s court.

And as these children and hundred of others live in different homes around the country, Njoki says some of their parents know where they (the children) are but have declined to pick them.

Recently a woman showed up at the institution to claim her child after 12 years. "She had genuine documents to prove that the boy was hers. She lived knowing her son was at the home for all those years but never bothered to come and pick him," says Njoki.

Other parents turn up at the Children’s Courts during identification parades just to confirm that their children are alive and healthy. "The children cannot recognise them but the parents do. They would keenly look at the children’s faces and thereafter walk away knowing that they are being taken good care of by the Government," she says.

Muthoki who was picked by police at Kamukunji {PHOTO/ MICHAEL ORIEDO/STANDARD}

Monitoring children

Njoki recalls a case where a caregiver at the home overhead a woman who had turned up at an identification parade telling another of how she had seen that her son was very healthy.

During the months of January, June and December during the festive season the cases of lost or abandoned children increase.

"The numbers rise depending on seasons. Many children are deserted over the December holiday and at the beginning of the year," Njoki says. She attributes this to some parents’ wish to spend the holiday without their children burdening them.

Before a child is accepted at NCH, they must have passed through the children’s court for it to ascertain that they are in need of care and protection.

"This is to ensure that the children’s home receives only children who are genuinely lost or abandoned," says Rebecca Kariuki, an officer at Nairobi Province Children’s Department.

Once the organisation receives them, it gets their details from those who can talk and tries to trace their parents.

"We have managed to unite some lost children with their parents but we are stuck with a majority," says Rebecca.

Njoki says the law allows them to stay with the children for a maximum of six months as they search for their parents but this has not been possible.

"Most of them live here for several years. We later transfer them to other homes where they can stay until they turn 18," she says.

Police Spokesperson Eric Kiraithe says abdication of parental duty is not an ordinary criminal action.

"We do not treat such a crime as any other normal crime. This is because such a parent and the child both need psychological and emotional support," he says.

Kiraithe says when the police come across such a parent, they hand them over to the children’s department who will then take them to court.

However, he says child abandonment is a complicated issue that the society needs to look at in a holistic approach.


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