In the past week, two members of USK Street Children and Youth Associations have been killed in Nairobi. David Kimemia was shot dead by security guards because they mistakenly thought he was responsible for a robbery since he was running away from a large commotion. In reality, he was awoken by the chaos and due to his surprise, started running. Just a few days before that, Stephen Kimanzi was hacked to death by Maasai, accused too of stealing, when in fact all he was doing was going to buy medicine.
During all this violence, I have been reading a report called State of the World’s Street Children: Violence. It is a report by the Consortium for Street Children that focuses on violence as one of the issues affecting the lives of children, something that often drives them to the streets and affects their lives there.
The definition of violence used in the report is broad, including more than just physical violence. It also includes sexual and psychological abuse, as well as neglect.
The argument that the report builds off of is that poverty does not adequately explain why kids turn to the streets. For instance, here in Kenya, poverty is everywhere, yet not all poor children leave home. This report argues that it is usually a combination of factors that pushes a kid to the streets – a powerful one being violence in the home.
However, this does not go to say that poverty, violence, and other factors affecting a child’s decision to leave home are unrelated. For instance, when a family is already poor, they are more vulnerable to violence, even more so when the poor family lives in a very unequal society. The poverty and inequality “exacerbate stress on already vulnerable families,” thus making them more prone to violence and abuse.
What is unfortunate is that while some kids go to the streets to escape from violence at home, they are just entering into a zone of even more violence. For instance, as Peter, a participant in the Digital Storytelling Project, writes,
“For instance, one day as we relaxed near a shamble kiosk at around eight o’clock, we saw a vehicle driven towards where we were. We did not imagine they were our guests until the vehicle parked just next to us. To our surprise, we were given matching orders to all get into the vehicle. We found ourselves at the police station. To add insult to injury, we were charged with belonging to the outlawed ‘Mungiki’ group. We were remanded for five months then later released.”
As in this case and in the one of the boy who was shot, law enforcers (police and city council askaris) in Kenya are large perpetrators of violence and abuse against those living and working on the streets. Negative stereotypes and a disregard for children’s rights often result in beatings, threats, unwarranted arrest, rape and even murder, all by those who are hired to protect us.
On top of that, those on the streets even perpetuate violence among each other. A few months ago, USK interviewed many members of its Associations and one thing that surfaced from the responses was that many kids are forced to move around often in order to escape from the “big boys” (older kids) that abuse and threaten the smaller children. Also, groups of kids on the streets can be enemies of other groups – an unstable dynamic that I have seen played out when visiting the base of one of my students.
So unfortunately, even if a child is able to escape from violence at home, in a poor society, often his or her only option is to accept the violence of the streets instead. This perpetuates a life long exposure to violence, undermining the psychological and physical health of our world’s children.
Amina, a Digital Storytelling Project participant, took these photographs to depict violence between a mother and daughter, and the consequence – the child leaving home and exposing herself to the violence of the streets.
The report recommends that in order to reduce violence on the streets, strong support networks must be formed. Thankfully, USK is doing just that with their Street Children and Youth Associations. What is more is that USK does not just group the members together and have them exist in isolation, but rather encourages interaction between Associations through meetings, trainings, focus group discussions and sports activities such as soccer matches.
Although the Association model may not completely reduce violence from other sources, reducing violence amongst even some children on the streets is a positive step. Of course, more must be done, such as ending society’s acceptance of violence in the home, raising awareness of children’s rights amongst the law enforcers, and mitigating poverty to reduce vulnerability to violence and abuse. USK is working towards all these goals by enhancing children’s rights, working with police departments and the city council to end the unwarranted abuse, as well as providing education and training opportunities to young people so they can escape from the trap of poverty.
However, USK is just one organization in one country helping only a fraction of the affected. Violence, and the associated poverty and stereotypes, must be curbed on a worldwide scale by a collection of people and groups to ensure that our children are not exposed to and able to escape from violence. I don’t want to see one of my students, one of their friends, or any young person be the next victim of this injustice.
Posted By Kristina Rosinsky
Posted Aug 18th, 2008