Monday, October 10, 2005

Street Children’s Project Report (October 10, 2005)

I flew into Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa, on September 13, 2005 to begin the street children’s project.

On September 16, 2005 I met with representatives of the Children’s Legal Action Network (CLAN) to plan the project. CLAN’s representatives were very excited about the project and promised to give me all the support I needed, including use of CLAN’s resources.

Together with CLAN representatives, I visited Baraka za Ibrahim, one of the more than 200 schools that have sprung up in Nairobi slums with the support of various NGOs and well-wishers.

Baraka za Ibrahim is a school in the middle of Kibera slums, the largest slum in Africa with over 1.2 million inhabitants. Baraka za Ibrahim has about 415 students from standard one to form two (first grade to tenth grade.) The students are from all over the country, representing all provinces. It has about 20 teachers with about eight teaching forms one and two. The school is currently constructing classrooms for forms three and four (eleventh to twelfth grade). Access to the school is very difficult and it is easier to walk than to drive because there is only one dirt road leading to the school’s gate with room for only one four-wheel drive vehicle. There are many vendors on the street with children also playing on the streets and even dogs sleeping comfortably on the streets because vehicles rarely go that deep into the slums. When we drove by, children tried to jump on the back of the vehicle and some followed it on foot.
The school itself has a great and immediately-visible need for more resources: electricity, more space for the children to play, more buildings to be used as classrooms, libraries, staff room, dining hall, etc. The students have a need for uniforms as they currently have different colors of uniforms as most have been donated by different groups and individuals. For some children, the only meal they eat is that made in the school. Some are HIV-positive, have HIV-positive parents or are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The poverty in the school and among the teachers and students is apparent to any visitor as most of the children walk barefoot or with torn shoes and clothing. In spite of all the poverty and difficulty they face, the children are very welcoming and eager to learn. I volunteered to teach Maths and Physics once a week and during my classes, the children are very responsive to questions, ask their own questions and are even willing to go to the blackboard and solve problems in front of their colleagues. Most of the children were picked straight from the street and had to be rehabilitated over a lengthy period of time with visits to and from the streets until after a period lasting about 1-2 years they decided to finally leave the streets and pursue education.

On September 21 and 28, 2005 I visited the Nairobi Children’s Court and obtained permission from the presiding judge to observe some of their sessions. On the 28th there was a feeding program by the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). The children – numbering almost 40 were paraded in the court’s courtyard and fed by MYSA. The feeding program was also a family reunification program in which the media was invited to take pictures of the paraded children so they could be photographed and their pictures publicized. Parents and guardians would later reclaim their children. After the photographing and feeding, the children were taken to the court and arraigned before the judge. They were all ordered into state custody without input from any parent or guardian other than the children’s officer. The judge also heard a case in which two children were charged with robbing a shop. The children appeared pro se and had to cross-examine the witnesses themselves. The Court had no reporting system and the Judge had to handwrite her notes.

On September 21 and 28, 2005 I also spoke with police officers in the children’s court’s courtyard and visited police headquarters to obtain police guidelines or training procedures on handling children. The police denied mistreating children but agreed they had no training to handle children beyond commonsense and that the determination of whether one was a child was based on appearances. The police, however, agreed that city council askaris (security guards) have insufficient or no training to handle children or any “common man” as the askaris even mistreat the disabled. I was unable to obtain any police guidelines or training procedures on handling children as the police officer in charge of such records kept telling me to come back the following day as she had no time to attend to me.

On September 25, 2005 I, together with four reporters, went round Nairobi interviewing street children at random. We divided the city into four quadrants and traveled around each quadrant in teams of two or individually. We interviewed a total of approximately 40 street children – mostly male with only about 8 girls – aged between 10 and 18. They were mostly wearing tattered and dirty clothing, sniffing glue and barefoot. Most looked like they had not showered for very long and were carrying sacks in which they collected metals for sale at ksh. 6 a piece. The street children were mostly eager to talk about their situation and friendly, especially when offered some money. They mostly left home because of poverty. Most of the young ones want to go back to school while the older ones want to learn a vocation e.g. to be mechanics or drivers. Some have their entire families – brothers and sisters – on the streets who also beg for money. They said the glue helps them cope with their situation. There were others who had homes but come to the city in the morning to beg and take money home in the evening. They were afraid of the City Council Askaris (security guards) because the security guards beat them and take them to a rehabilitation facility known as Joseph Kangethe where they are given no food and made to sleep on the floor. They said they could be detained in Joseph Kangethe for long, a month to a year, and only leave when rescued by fellow street children or let go after bribing the security guards.

On October 3, 2005, I visited Joseph Kangethe Rehabilitation facility. There were about 8 security guards guarding the door to a hall in a stadium. The stadium was the rehabilitation facility and members of the public were not allowed in unless they had written permission from the City Council. The guards denied beating any children but also said I could not even walk in to take a look at the facility. The door was always closed fully or partially. Occasionally a child emerged and asked a security guard armed with a club for permission to visit the restroom. The security guards looked mean and smoked cigarettes with some even sending the scared children for cigarettes. I went to the City Council offices to ask for permission to visit the facility but was told to get a letter requesting such permission from CLAN. I got the letter and took it to the City Council who said they would “get back to me.”

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Starting the Project (Sept - Oct '05)

"According to 2004 estimates, there were between
250,000 and 300,000 street children in Kenya with more
than 60,000 of the children living in Nairobi alone" 
This campaign seeks to foster discussion and begin
implementation of initiatives aimed at protecting the
human rights of street children within the Kenyan
juvenile justice system.
Partner/Affiliate organizations: 
The International Leadership Institute 
Kids Home International
Targeted Interviews
The campaign will conduct interviews in Nakuru, Nyeri,
Garissa, Eldoret and Kakamega involving professionals,
judicial officials, religious leaders, community
leaders and other individuals working in childd
protection initiatives to identify and discuss key
obstacles to the implementation of international human
rights standards for street children in the Kenyan
juvenile justice system.
The campaign will also organize seminars on street
children in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
Resource Center
The campaign plans to start a resource center to cater
for street children in Nairobi.