In all the major urban areas in Kenya including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Eldoret, there is a persistent problem of rising number of street families.
Despite several intervention measures such as admissions to care homes, curbing the problem has proved a tall order with more children pouring out on the streets.
A new study blames this trend on the children’s fear of being reprimanded for mistakes at home and subjected to corporal punishment.
Data from the recently launched 2020 National Census of Street Families points out violence in domestic settings as the greatest contributor to the rising number of street families.
The report shows that some 92 percent of the males interviewed preferred to remain on the streets than go back home for the fear of being reprimanded as 86 percent also cited fear of corporal punishment. About 50 percent of the females cited domestic violence as the main reason they went to the streets.
Male and female street children also cited mistreatment by relatives, in cases where the parents are dead or no longer living with them, at 81 and 36 percent respectively, as the other reason for going to the streets.
Accounts by three children interviewed back-up the claims. The minors now living in a children’s home in Nairobi ran from home on varying occasions to escape the violence that was being meted on them.
One narrated how daily beatings from his step-father left him with no other option than escaping from home.
“People only associate corporal punishments with schools but this is not the case. Corporal punishment is happening at homes too and it is evident that children are escaping to the streets to avoid these unbearable situations,” said UNICEF Kenya child protection specialist Catherine Kimotho.
"We have also seen it happen where couples are constantly fighting.”
Ms Kimotho, said there is need for the government to take a more active role in trying to promote and protect family units.
This involves offering social and economical support that would see parental skills promoted and cash transfers made to the vulnerable. It would also mean bringing to book those involved in any form of violence at homes to discourage the vice.
Already, the social protection ministry is working on a National Policy on Family Promotion and Protection as its way of creating an environment “for stable and strong families.”
The report also indicates that 86 percent of those interviewed cited dropping out of school due to lack of school fees as the other major reason for their continued stay on the streets.
A majority also cited the death of a parent rendering them homeless, lack of food at home, tribal clashes, abandonment and getting lost during travel as the other reasons for going to the streets.
The recent statistics indicate Kenya currently has 46,639 street persons spread across the 47 counties, with 72 percent being male. Most (37,302) of the persons living on the street were aged below 34 years and out of this, those not older than 19 were 15,752.
Nairobi had the highest street people with a population of 15,337 followed by Mombasa and Kisumu at 7,529 and 2,746, respectively, while Uasin Gishu had 2,147 and Nakuru 2,005, closing the list of the counties with the highest populations.
The study also found that most street persons had suffered a form of ailment in the recent weeks preceding to the census.
It indicated that some 74 percent of the males had skin diseases, 55 percent of the females had HIV or a sexually transmitted infections (STIs) while 37.7 percent of the population had suffered malaria.
Overall, 17.7 percent had suffered a chest related ailments, 13.9 percent and 10 percent had fever or diarrhoea or stomach ache.
To survive on the streets, 92.2 percent of the males were involved in peddling of drugs while 96.1 percent of the females were involved in sex work. Only 28 and 23 percent were involved in begging and garbage and scrap metal collection, respectively.
Drug peddling exposed the male street children to drug addiction, an issue that was also found prevalent among this group in previous related studies. Unsurprisingly, the study cites drug addiction and relapse of beneficiaries as one of the key challenges facing street families rehabilitation institutions.
In addition, lack of clear policy to streamline the sector and guidelines to allow for the reintegration of the street children back into the society have been blamed for the growing number of street children and families too.
The social protection ministry has indicated that the new study offers data and findings that will be crucial in ensuring the best approach in dealing with street children. Already, the government in its social safety net programme occasionally sends stipend to the vulnerable and poor in society and plans are afoot to include the street people in the programme.
“My ministry in collaboration with the various stakeholders will utilise the information collected and analysed in this report to advocate for systematic and increased use of the data for evidence-based decision making. This will inform the targeting of street families for inclusion in the social safety net programme so as to ensure they benefit from the support,” said Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Simon Chelugui.
Mr Chegui added that the data will also go towards enabling the ministry to draft policies that will guide implementation of the rehabilitation of street families, develop the National Street Families Bill and a Street Families Trust Fund Strategic Plan.
“The data collected will also enhance monitoring and evaluation of the already existing programmes that focus on this segment of the population.”