The fate of 470 street children arrested in Nairobi County last month is unknown as conflicting reports emerged on their whereabouts.
The aim of the operation was to vet the children and place some of them in care homes across the country, and take the rest back to their homes.
Instead, many questions have been left unanswered as the county and national governments give conflicting reports.
Police had said that, together with Nairobi County, they conducted an operation on May 21 and May 22, targeting street children, whose numbers have been on the rise in the city.
However, county officers have denied that they were involved in the swoop.
“That is an exercise that I do not know about and I only got to hear about it in the media,” said Ms Anne Lokidor, the Nairobi County executive in charge of Education, Youth, Sports and Social Services, in an interview with the Nation on Wednesday.
This was corroborated by City Hall Social Services Department director Robert Muema, who recalled having received a telephone call informing him that police had left street children at the county offices near the City Hall Court.
He added that as the lorry carrying the children left City Hall, they escaped.
“I was in a meeting,” said Mr Muema. “We did not know if they were doing an operation. When I got down there, I did not find anyone. Apparently, they overpowered our askaris and ran away.
SENT BACK HOME
“It is ridiculous. I do not know the number since I did not see them.”
Nairobi County Police Commander Japheth Koome had said at the time of the arrest that the children would be screened before being sent back to their homes or rehabilitation centres.
A spot check by the Nation on Wednesday revealed conflicting reports on the fate of the seized children.
At three of the four rehabilitation centres run by the Nairobi County government — Shauri Moyo, Joseph Kang’ethe, Kayole and Bahati — there were no children who arrived there recently, according to the institutions’ managers.
But according to Nairobi sub-county children services officer Mary Maina, 10 of the children taken to the county court on that day who were under 18 were housed at Bahati rehab centre.
The centre’s manager, Mr Isaiah Mutundu, however, refuted this, saying the last time he received a new lot of street children from the City Hall Court was on May 2.
The controversy took a twist after Nairobi Central OCPD Robert Thuku, while speaking to the Nation by phone on Thursday, said the arrested children were taken to Dandora and Ruiru after they told police they came from there. He added that the officers had to leave the children in the two places since they did not know what else to do with them.
“We had a challenge on what to do, but asked them where they came from,” said Mr Thuku. “Some said they came from Dandora and others Ruiru, and the officers took them there.
“However, they could not trace the houses; they just left them there.”
Mr Thuku said that despite the operation by the national government to keep the children off the streets, some of them are gradually returning.
The presence of the street children in the city centre has led to an increase in petty crimes such as snatching of valuables and harassment of women, pick-pocketing and car vandalism.
The Consortium of Street Children estimates that there are more than 60,000 of them in Nairobi. Police estimate that a quarter of this number, or 15,000, are in the city centre.
There has also been a push and pull between the county and national governments, on who is responsible for the street children’s welfare.
ALLOCATION OF FUNDS
The county maintains that the responsibility is on the latter, adding that the devolved unit has no resources to take care of the children.
“We appeal for more allocation of funds to build more rehabilitation homes,” said Ms Lokidor.
“There must also be concerted efforts from the Church and the national government so that the society goes back to where it was.”
Ms Lokidor said the matter of street children was not a one-off issue with a one-bullet solution.
As long as problems such as broken homes, alcohol and drug abuse and extreme poverty existed in society, the street children challenge will always be there, she added.