Little children hawking sweets and other assorted consumables is a common sight in the streets of Nairobi, especially in the capital city’s central business district.
The children are mostly on their own as their mothers sit in groups and watch from a distance. They are usually girls, who pursue a would-be client and beg and plead with them to buy their merchandise, during odd hours, into the night, and at risky places such as bars.
I’m curious to know where the children, or their mothers and guardians, get the sweets from. Going by the packaging, the sweets could be from the same company, which seems to have entered into some deal with these mostly street people to sell them for a commission.
But these are minors, who should be in school and at home — not in the streets of Nairobi, where, particularly the girls, are vulnerable to all manner of criminals, including sex pests and paedophiles.
What is disturbing is that this exploitation, exposure to risk and abuse of children that keeps taking new levels by the day, goes on unabated, right under the nose of those with the responsibility to stop it. It is time we demanded action against those pushing the children to roam the dangerous streets in the name of selling sweets and groundnuts.
While at the university many years ago, my colleagues in the sociology class conducted research in the streets of Nairobi. In the course of their interviews with commercial sex workers and minors, they heard how some people — whom I believe posed as angels during the day — would drive around the city under the cover of darkness, pick up underage girls and go on to sexually abuse and subject them to all manner of violence and pervasion.
I do not know whether this criminal, unacceptable and sad abuse of children by the night operatives still goes on, but all levels of government and institutions, and all of us, must rescue the children from this abuse that we view as normal.
The argument that families send little children into the streets and not only subject them to child labour but expose them to danger due to poverty must not be entertained.
The Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw) recently carried out a related research in tourism-rich Kwale County at the coast, which focused on commercial sexual exploitation of children, child trafficking and child sex tourism. They identified poverty, among other issues, as a key factor that drives young girls into such vices.
The report is quite comprehensive. For instance, it recommends the need for county and national governments to fight poverty among families and suggests the need for them to prioritise “organised and coordinated livelihood initiatives”.
Critical, too, is the need for the national and county governments to increase their budgets for departments that deal with children and youth and implement policies on welfare and protection of minors and families.
With such protection structures, Kenya will avoid appalling situations like the one reported in the Sunday Nation. An American couple with a history of child molestation fled their country to Kenya and set up a children’s home in Bomet County where they took in close to 100 vulnerable minors and the man went ahead to sexually abuse them repeatedly. They have since fled back to the US.
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The women’s movement must be excited following the appointment of Ms Naisola Likimani as the new lead for the support unit of SheDecides. The London-based global political movement’s vision is a world where “every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life and with her future. Without question.”
The youthful Naisola, an international policy and development expert described roundly as a dynamic feminist, and who has so far fought for women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality for some 13 years, will lead the movement to even greater heights.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected]