The last 48 hours have seen renewed efforts by Nairobi county authorities to clear the Central Business District of street families and children. This was a knee-jerk response to an outcry from residents about their swelling numbers and linkage to insecurity surge within the CBD.
Street families and children are a by-product of poverty, and the collapse of family structures which previously insulated vulnerable members, especially children, from ravages of need.
These children ought to constitute a scar on our collective conscience but given their vast numbers, we have become indifferent to their plight. This is hardly helped by the fact that they are invariably filthy and increasingly come across as a nuisance predisposed to criminal tendencies. Their proliferation nonetheless casts a cloud over the nation with serious social and security implications.
Not surprisingly, with heightened insecurity, City residents have recently been crying for intervention hence the current operation. It is estimated that Nairobi alone is home to more than 60,000 street children. A country’s future is the children.
But how can this be possible with tens of thousands of children unprotected from dangers of roaming the streets without social skills, ethical anchoring and direction? Colonies of children and rogue pre-teen youngsters stalk Nairobi streets like vultures immediately dusk sets in.
The bigger ones pose serious danger and have been blamed for recent muggings. It’s probable that less than half of these children and teenagers are acting out of truancy.
This then poses the challenge of how to effectively handle the majority who find themselves in the streets for reasons rooted in need and social deprivation—children without parents or from dysfunctional homes and clear victims of abuse and neglect.
We must concede our moral terrain as a country acts to catalyse the mess now confronting us. However, Kenyans must not forget that like any children, street kids also crave for care, attention and hope.
The streets are pathetically harsh and constitute depraved environment fraught with dangers and characterised by starvation, violence, crime, drugs and sexual exploitation.
We must come up with strategies that lead to humanising and re-socialising these kids beyond carting them away from the CBD to juvenile detention camps or unknown destinations.
There is need for policy direction backed by resource allocations if we are to integrate and mainstream them into society. In the immediate term, it’s important that they are removed from the CBD if their future is to be secured as useful citizens who will positively contribute to their own welfare and that of Kenya.