It is estimated that Kenya has 250,000 street children and over 60,000 of them are in the capital Nairobi. In Nairobi alone a majority of people have no roof over their heads. Of this mass of people ravaged by poverty, war and globalisation, it is the children who have to struggle most.
Street children differ in age, gender, ethnicity, social class and these children have had different experiences throughout their lifetimes.
Many of these children are sent by their parents to work or beg on the streets. Some children are pushed onto the street following the death of parents sometimes due to HIV/AIDS or after running away from violence at home. Others live on the street simply because their families are too poor to look after them. While others are abandoned and left homeless.
Many leave their rural areas where traditional community ties have loosened for cities, where they have more chance of surviving by begging, finding odd jobs, scavenging rubbish sites, or prostitution.
Glue sniffing is at the core of “street culture” was primarily functional which is believed to dull the senses against the hardship of life on the streets and also provides a link to the support structure of the ‘street family’ as a potent symbol of shared experience.
A majority of people do not take them as human beings. They dismiss them as rowdy, dirty and thieves some even beat or insult them forgetting that its not a fault of their own to be in a situation.
The other issues facing these children include harassment sexual and otherwise, a general danger of violence, sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, neglect, hunger, lack of shelter, pregnancy and lack of sanitary conditions.
Girls are the most affected as they fall victims of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation and even gang rape which may result into unwanted pregnancies.Many are forced to become prostitutes, with a high risk of contracting AIDS.
The rescue and rehabilitation of street children is not easy. The very nature of their desperate existence has played a significant role in shaping their characters. They tend to be strongly independent. They wouldn’t survive on the streets if they weren’t. Re-socialising these young people can be a tough task. Attempts to lead them too rapidly into a new environment which involves social constraints and different patterns of behaviour can lead to failure. They find a return to the streets more attractive than a difficult integration into a society that is foreign to them.
While the government has implemented programs to deal with street children, the general solution involves placing the children into orphanages, juvenile homes or correctional institutions. Efforts have been made by the government to support or partner with non-government organizations
A tolerant step by step approach is essential. And gradually, as the children are relieved of the day to day pressures of managing their own survival, they become increasingly keen to learn and take part in social activities.