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Street Children in Kenya Resist Government Rehabilitation Centers

  • Rael Ombuor

FILE - Children walk along a railway track passing through a deep trench in the Kibera slum of Kenya's capital Nairobi February 26, 2015.

FILE - Children walk along a railway track passing through a deep trench in the Kibera slum of Kenya's capital Nairobi February 26, 2015.

Three days before U.S. President Barack Obama visited Nairobi, Kenya, the city announced it was going to relocate street children to rehabilitation centers in the country. The move coincided with a project to clean up the streets before the president’s arrival. Many say there must be a better way to address the plight of Nairobi’s street families.

Humphrey Macharia is on the street in downtown Nairobi, trying to direct a driver to an empty parking spot

The driver comes out and hands him 20 shillings- about 20 U.S. cents - and Humphrey looks for another “client."

The 17 year old is just one of the many street boys trying to survive in the city.

He said he came to the streets because his stepfather was mistreating him.

Like many on the streets, he has spent time in some government rehabilitation centers designed to give street kids another chance.

But for many of the street kids, these centers can feel more like detention camps.

He said the centers are the worst place one can ever go. He said boys run away all the time and the center staff wakes the kids up early.

After the White House confirmed President Obama’s visit to Kenya, the Nairobi Governor announced that the county government had set aside about 16 hectares of land in Ruai, about 20 kilometers from the center of Nairobi, where it intended to settle city street families.
The Kenyan government has budgeted only about $30,000 to fund rehabilitation of street families.

Activists like Joyce Muthoni, a former street child herself, say life at the centers is often worse than on the streets.

She said the rehabilitation centers are dirty with disease, and she said that when she was 12 years old her body was swollen when she was there.

Some private centers are offering another alternative.

Francis Kinyua, a program officer at Undugu Society, an organization that deals with rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration of street children into society, said private rehabilitation centers are more efficient than the government ones.

At Undugu society, they use an approach that is more comfortable for the children.

“We rehabilitate them from where they are by giving them life skills on how they can manage the trauma they have gone through and the issues they have faced in their lives,” said Kinyua.

Street Families in Kenya face a myriad of problems. The government has recognized the need to help, but getting the street families the right kind of help is still a challenge.