Every child deserves to grow up in a loving and caring family and community.
The right of a child to parental care is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, The African Charter and the Children Act 2001. Article 53(1) of the Constitution provides that every child has the right to parental care and protection. However, this remains a distant mirage for many children in Kenya. It is estimated that there are over 3.6 million orphans and vulnerable children in Kenya. Majority of them are supported informally within the extended family networks while approximately 15,752 under 19-year-old children are living on the streets, and over 40,000 children are under residential institutional care in charitable and statutory children institutions spread all over the country.
According to findings from various studies on the effects of residential institutional care on children there was a realisation that the negative effects of institutionalisation can last a lifetime. Children separated from their families and communities are susceptible to developmental delays, poor cognitive performance, discrimination, child trafficking and other forms of abuse and exploitation. A UN global study has shown that children living in institutions are six times more likely to experience violence as compared to their peers in families. Children who grow up in residential institutions also lack a sense of belonging and identity because they are disconnected from family and community networks. Children who grow up in institutions are more likely to be involved in crime, perform poorly academically, get into abusive relationships, commit suicide and engage in drug and substance use and abuse in adulthood compared to children who grow up in families.
The Government of Kenya has embarked on a determined course to ensure the rights and best interests of children are upheld through transitioning from residential institutional care to family and community-based care. The government has therefore developed the National Care Reform Strategy for Children in Kenya (2022-32) under the coordination of the National Council for Children’s Services (NCCS) with the support of Unicef and other non-State actors. The process of developing this strategy was a widely consultative process involving a multi-sectoral team and consultations were held with over 120 stakeholders at national, county and community levels.
The strategy emphasises on three pillars; family preservation and preventing separation of children from their families, robust alternative care, and transitioning from residential institutional care to family and community-based care. Preference is given to family and community-based care, including kinship, foster care, guardianship, Kafaalah and local adoption. There is glaring evidence that these care options provide better life outcomes for children.
Above all, the government acknowledges that the biggest challenge lies in the implementation, hence calls upon all stakeholders to work closely and in partnership towards the achievement of the vision of this strategy. This will ensure that all children and young people in Kenya live safely, happily and sustainably in a family and community- based care where their best interests are served.
The write is acting CEO of National Council for Children’s Services.