Last month, news of the disappearance of a two-week-old baby, Prince Ouko from Kenyatta National Hospital, sparked public outrage. The baby was later rescued. Maryana Munyendo, founder of Missing Child Kenya, gives us an overview of the situation in Kenya
Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi
What inspired you to start Missing Child Kenya?
I founded Missing Child Kenya in July 2016. I realised most parents do not know what to do when a child goes missing. They also do not know the existing organisations that can help in such times.
We provide free resources for the search of missing children and connect the affected families to their larger community networks, law enforcement and the media.
What do you have to say about latest abduction cases?
With reference to the KNH abduction case: Knowing how a typical infant abductor looks and behaves can help prevent these crimes before they happen. Staff in institutions such as hospitals should know whom to look for and that person’s method of operation.
An example is a suspect who initially visits nursery and maternity units at more than one health care facility prior to the abduction, asks detailed questions about procedures and the maternity floor layout. Security around childcare establishments is also of high importance.
Africans still battle with childlessness and lack of a male heir in marriage. The case involved a woman who had experienced a miscarriage.
Child theft is inexcusable, but how are we addressing infertility and child loss in mothers? What are we doing to do away with cultural practices and beliefs that oppress such women?
Do you have any statistics of how many children get lost every year? How rampant is it?
Kenya lacks an updated comprehensive database on missing children and we believe this is a step towards documenting all the cases we come across digitally so that the data can be used to solve the problem. Since July 2016, we have, however, worked with 278 families.
As per our case files, 89 children are still missing, 126 were found and reunited with family and 63 are in government children’s homes having been brought as lost and found and so search and trace efforts to locate their families are in progress.
Tell us about lost and found child incidents that you will never forget.
One child only knew that their father worked at Weetabix. That piece of information helped us reunite the child with the family in three hours. In another incident, two siblings were found at night along Ngong Road in Nairobi trying to board a bus to Thika.
A Good Samaritan called us and we directed the bus driver to take them to Kilimani Police Station. After being interviewed we published an alert stating that their uncle works at the bus stop in Thika. He was found and the children were reunited with their family.
What channels do you use to find a lost child?
We use our website, social media, text message alerts, online community platforms like WhatsApp, local administration authorities such as the office of the chief and communication channels of network partners like the Police and Department of Children’s Services.
We also share our information with media houses because they have a wider audience reach. The power of the hashtag, #MissingChildKE has also helped make our alerts available all over.
What can be done by government and related authorities to reduce cases of abduction?
The main challenge we face is inter-agency coordination. The police, the Department of Children’s Services and other agencies like the media do a fantastic job on issues of missing children, but we work in silos.
My vision for Missing Child Kenya is to foster inter-agency collaboration so that we can take advantage of each other’s strengths.
We have focused a lot on creating awareness on the issue of missing children and we also educate all partners that we have had the opportunity to work with on best practices when it comes to handling missing children cases.
Do more children get lost as a result of abduction or do we also have a significant number who get lost in other circumstances?
The much younger children get innocently lost because they are still not fully aware of physical surroundings.
Other cases of missing children happen where there are custodial battles between parents, children running away from abusive homes, truancy, child trafficking, especially pre-teen girls for prostitution and most recently house helps being the conduits that steal young children, among others.
What are the challenges?
While mobile phone penetration has increased significantly in Kenya, we still experience some challenges in terms of access to smartphones and internet connectivity for Kenyans in lower income settlements and the rural inaccessible areas.
Also, some unscrupulous owners of children’s homes collect lost and found children and keep them, using them to attract donor funding without informing the authorities. This is illegal and denies children who are being actively searched for by their families a chance of reunification.