Day of the African Child
Tomorrow, June 16th, we are supposed to celebrate the Day of the African Child, yet between 250,000 to 300,000 of Kenyan children are categorized as streetchildren and forced to find their basic needs on the streets.
There will be much to mourn and less to celebrate tomorrow as the number of children on Kenyan streets keeps increasing steadily and the street children continue to suffer. They lack basic needs, have health problems and are exposed to illicit drugs, communicable diseases and sexually transmitted diseases. Street children are often involved in road accidents and victimized by local authorities, the police and members of the public. Some of the children complain of mistreatment and abuse at government rehabilitation centers. In addition, children lack due process in the courts as they are often unrepresented in legal proceedings. Children are also vulnerable to exploitation. For example, young girls and boys are often used as prostitutes and young men are sometimes used to fulfill cultural practices, such as wife inheritance rituals.
There are many organizations involved in child welfare in Kenya but their lack of resources makes them vulnerable to control by donors. Some exist merely to take advantage of donor funding. The result is year after year we mourn the Day of the African Child instead of celebrating as we should.
The main causes of the problem of street children include poverty, problems at home or at school, street attractions and vulnerability. The government should take the lead in coordination, supervision and monitoring of individuals and organizations involved in child welfare. The government should also take the lead in enforcing the Children’s Act 2001. Organizations involved in child welfare should also engage in more proactive child advocacy, initiate screening programs for street children and training programs for the children and population at large. Such initiatives must involve child participation and work toward family reunification. The focus should be on the rural and peri-urban areas where most children originate.
The government, through the Area Advisory Council (AAC), should fund and coordinate child welfare programs by ensuring an appropriate distribution of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and other government funding to qualified child welfare programs. The government should also enact reporting requirements to ensure organizations involved in child welfare accurately report any non-government funding.
When we work to better protect our children, we inch closer toward the day when we will truly celebrate the Day of the African Child.