In February this year, the video of a fifteen year old street boy went viral in Kenya because of his fluency in English and a seemingly good understanding of the immediate issues that affect street children judging from the issues he raised in his short presentation. Following this publicity, Morris Mwenda was taken in by a children’s home in Gachie, however shortly after, the boy was back on the streets citing mistreatment at the children’s home as well as the absence of the help that well-wishers had pledged after Mwenda’s video went viral.
In a quick rejoinder, Sam Gichuru, Nailab CEO and contributor to Homeless of Nairobi said that it is not easy to keep street children completely out of the streets even after they are taken in by a children’s home and their basic needs are being catered for.
I think this last bit –where it is seemingly impossible to keep street kids off the streets— introduces the unseen dynamics of the homeless kids that we see on the streets of Nairobi and other urban centres in the country. For the undiscerning eye, all these children need is a good home where they can thrive and voila, they will settle down and become responsible citizens. But is it that simple?
a) Drug abuse
There is high incidence of drug use among street children and you can actually help me count the number of young boys and girls on the streets that cling to their bottles of glue – perhaps the lowest manifestation of the consumption of drugs. Acetone, gasoline and paint thinner are among the most widely used inhalants by this group. According to this study, the reasons street children give for the high prevalence of drug use is; search for pleasure, a means to escape, peer pressure, curiosity, increasing courage and strength for life on the streets.
Bearing this in mind, therefore, it will take time for these kids to get used to being in a home. They have also gotten used to taking drugs and they may not easily adapt to an environment where they are not allowed to take drugs. This can make it difficult for them to switch to a ‘normal’ home.
Steps have to be taken to examine this children getting off the streets and ensure that that they get rehabilitated.
b) Street children are not used to formal structures
There is a sub-story about street children who were taken in to a home in Margaret Ogola’s book, Place of Destiny. The reader, one gets excited about the new lease of life and a chance to better their lives which these kids have been afforded. However, all but one child escapes from this new home explaining that the rules that these centres have are not something that they are used to; or can survive so it is better for them to remain desolate on the streets but with their ‘freedoms’.
Street children have been defined as kids for whom the streets has become their habitual abode and source of income; and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults. Therefore, going by that definition, street children are not your regular children whom you can scold for wrong doing and have them back in shape which is normally the order of the day in most homes. Since they are used to being on their own and deciding what happens in their lives, their movements into any institution with authority must follow a very systematic pattern otherwise they will feel restrained and go back to where they know best – the streets.
c) Some street children are hardened further by vices
With no family and no job, street children employ all sorts of tactics to survive. Some resort to begging while others may pick up vices such as pick-pocketing, stealing and joining criminal gangs to ensure that they can sustain their lives. It is estimated that more than 300,000 children living on the streets in Kenya engage in survival tactics that endanger their lives and that of the society. This can further illustrate the fact that street children have an extra-layer to them that has to be dismantled before they can completely be reabsorbed back into the society as full members.
d) So used to street life
I know this sounds a bit pessimistic but the truth is that some of these children are just too adapted to the street life to the point that any other life might not fit them as illustrated in the stories about children being taken to homes from the streets but preferring instead to run away and go back to the streets where they can comfortably live out the vices that they are used to such as the use of drugs, lack of accountability to anyone, criminal life such as those who join gangs and so on. While this is not to say that there is no hope where street children reintegration into the society is concerned, there is need for all these aspects to be taken into consideration and reformed otherwise there shall be no end to the number of children we see on the street – whether or not we have rehabilitation centres.
These kids can be rehabilitated and they need a lot of love, patience and work.
e.Trauma and terror to deal with
Some of the causes for the occurrence of street children have been listed as family breakdown, armed conflict, poverty, physical and sexual abuse to mention just a few. Therefore, coming from a background like this then going on to the streets to experience some more terror before finally getting an adoptive family may not be a transition that is easy to make.
Pst. Joseph Kamithi who runs a children’s home says that even after some of the children have settled down in their new homes, it is still not easy for them to lead normal lives. Having been hardened by years of depletion and struggling to survive, they have an innate suspicion of others, aggression, lack of concentration and inability to make friends. This therefore means that the children’s home has to put in extra effort in guidance and counseling before these kids can begin to go to school and fit in.