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Address gender-based violence among street families

A section of street children enjoy a meal at Muliro Gardens in Kakamega town. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

I recently found two young people, a man and a woman, engaged in what seemed like a heated argument near a parking lot in Ruiru town. They were both quite unkempt and from their looks, it was clear that they lived in the streets. As I got closer, I noticed the woman was carrying a rather frail-looking child. She was also evidently quite intoxicated, perhaps from sniffing glue.

The man kept shouting at her and even shoved her to the side as she tried to explain something to him. She pushed him back with her free hand and he called her stubborn, throwing what seemed like a baby shawl at her. She explained to me that the man was her boyfriend and the father of her child, which, turns out, had a cast on its broken leg. The baby had fallen off her back, she said.

She also explained that they, her boyfriend and she, fought a lot and that she had had to give up her other child to a children’s home to protect them from the frequent fights. I asked her if gender-based violence was a common occurrence among her fellow street children.

She said it was, and that she knew both men and women who had hurt each other badly, fighting not only for money and other resources but also love. Sadly, she said that she did not want to live in a children’s home herself for reasons she couldn’t coherently explain in her intoxicated state. Her boyfriend explained to me that she was difficult to deal with and didn’t pay attention.

Although I offered some temporary help to the family, I couldn’t help but wonder how much violence that and other families living in the streets have had to endure. As I walked way, I imagined how difficult it must be for such families to deal with the physical and emotional effects of violence meted to them by their partners, especially since they lack a good support system.

Global estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that one in every three women in romantic relationships is subjected to physical and sexual violence. Findings of a pilot study by Kenyatta University Women’s Economic Empowerment Hub indicated that 90.6 per cent of SGBV survivors had suffered physical violence, while 78.1 per cent had endured psychological/emotional violence. However, the study indicated that only 25 per cent of the survivors required a safe place to stay following the violence.

Although Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) among men and women is prevalent across many communities and social strata, it is not common to hear anti-SGBV crusaders emphasise the devastating effects of the vice among people living in the streets.

Yet, as it dawned on me during my encounter with the Ruiru street family, it is highly likely that many street families are grappling with physical and psychological violence. Their challenges are compounded by lack of a strong support system that many SGBV survivors turn to for comfort and the beginning of their healing journey.

As we put in place measures to safeguard society against SGBV, it is important to include ways to identify and support survivors of the violence among the street families. With lack of awareness on basic human rights and reporting processes, many of them may have learnt to live with the vicious cycle of abuse.

Dr Kalangi is a communication trainer and consultant, at Kenyatta University