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Let us help these children get back to their families

Saturday May 25 2019

KIDNAPPED CHILDREN

Eugene is one of the many children who get lost or are kidnapped daily in Kenya. PHOTO | COURTESY 

ANITA CHEPKOECH
By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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She left her sleeping baby under the watch of his uncle at their home in Pipeline, Embakasi, Nairobi, and went to town to buy him school uniform on April 29, 2017.

When she returned, her three-and-a-half-year-old son was nowhere to be found. He had gone missing, never to be seen again.

Mrs Joyce Muaania’s harrowing experience since her only son Emmanuel Muuo disappeared is so deep that it always takes tears to put it in words.

“The pain is inexplicable. How a mother leaves home, with all good intentions to buy uniform and prepare a good future for her son, only to come back and realise it was useless leaving him … he can’t wear the uniform, and I can’t be with him now,” Mrs Muaania said and broke down uncontrollably.

A beginner pupil at Havard Junior School, “Manuu”, as they fondly called him, was a jovial, active boy.

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His mother remembers how, on that fateful day, she accompanied her husband, Mr Abel Muaania, who was heading to work.

This was after giving instructions to her younger brother to feed little Manuu when he woke up, and keep an eye on him till she returns.

She returned, eager to fit the uniform on him, but he couldn’t be found.

“My brother said that he had gone to the shop with him and Manuu joined in a game with a friend outside the shop,” narrated the mother of three girls.

Panic set in and she dropped the uniform to join in the search, an emergency that has never been resolved.

After combing through the entire Embakasi with the help of neighbours and not finding Manuu, they then reported the matter to the Embakasi Police Station.

HOPE

Manuu was last seen wearing a grey T-shirt with orange sleeves; a jumper with the word “Bear” on the front and a black-and-white striped short.

Days and nights of tears and distress affected Ms Muaania health, causing her blood pressure to drop, and she occasionally fainted.

They even had to move from their house because it brought memories of their son, and she would faint.

“I had two daughters when Manuu disappeared, now I have a third girl. He is still my only son.

“I have hope that I will reunite with him soon because that is the gut feeling in me … that he is happy wherever he is and that God will bring us together again,” she said with optimism.

Mr Peter Essendi is another parent living in great hope that his son, Mathews Essendi, who disappeared on October 6, 2016, will be found safe and sound.

CON MEN

What started as an exciting trip from Kitale to attend his cousin’s wedding in Nairobi ended in a nightmare that robbed the family of good moments with their firstborn jewel.

Then 17, the mentally unstable young man crossed Luthuli Avenue ahead of his father, who had to wait a couple of minutes for the heavy traffic to subside before rejoining him.

It was not to be. “It was during the rush hour when things are chaotic and Mathews crossed the road ahead of me. By the time I got to the other side, he was nowhere to be seen.

“I searched everywhere in vain. I ended up thinking that maybe he boarded some matatu. The turn boys may have called out on passengers to board, and he also boarded one because he is fond of following any instructions given,” said the father, who has gone to great lengths to find his son.

He even went to Uganda and Tanzania when he heard that someone who looks like his son had been spotted there.

Con men once took advantage of their desperate situation, telling them that Mathews had been spotted in Busia. On arrival in the border town, the charlatans demanded Sh200,000.

CAMPAIGN

Although there are no statistics on missing people in this country, many families are battling thoughts of whether their loved ones are alive or dead.

Missing Child Kenya Executive Director Maryanne Muyendo told the Saturday Nation that the symbol they have chosen for this year’s celebrations is the flower Forget-Me Not, whose name is also the resounding theme — to bring hope to such families.

“A parent’s greatest fear is that so many other cases of missing people come up and their child is likely to be forgotten. We want to give them a message of hope that we will not forget the children who are missing. They should be reunited with their families,” she said.

Such a message is what Ms Ruth Wanjiku, mother of Peter Musyoka, needs.

PLAY TIME

Her playful but obedient seven-year-old son had just arrived at their Mathare 3B home from his grandmother’s house close by, met her mother at her business stall and proceeded to the house to do homework.

“Someone should at least tell me that he has been seen somewhere. He can’t just have finished his homework, returned his pencil to the rightful place, wore his gumboots and disappeared without a trace,” she told the Saturday Nation by phone.

They reported the matter at the Pangani Police Station. The former pupil at Maji Mazuri Academy has not been seen since.

Like many children who get lost during play time, Master Sean Iregi disappeared in 2016 in Dandora, never to be found.

“When the mother came out to check on him, she found him missing. Neighbours said they saw him walk towards some direction, but we followed the route and never found him,” said his aunt Mrs Brenda Achieng.

CONFLICT

His parents, who live in the United Kingdom, had come visiting when he disappeared.

Missing Child Kenya receives four to five cases of missing children every day.

Stealing children, Ms Muyendo said, is one of the five most documented circumstances under which they disappear.

“People steal children either because they are incapable of having their own or to get a male heir to satisfy a qualification of marriage in accordance to African culture,”, she said.

“Another reason is that children get lost because they are children, still at a stage of exploring and learning.”

TRAFFICKING

There are also custody cases among fighting couples that prompt one partner to steal children from the other.

Orphanage trafficking is also a growing concern as “Good Samaritans” keep other people’s children to sponsorship money from donors.

Children with special needs like autism and Down syndrome are also more likely to get lost because they are not able to navigate around some situations due to their developmental challenge.