As a child living on the streets of Mombasa, just the ‘crime’ of having nowhere to call home could see you locked up in prison. Thanks to the work of our partner, Glad’s House Kenya, this practice is finally decreasing. But street-connected children, who are extremely vulnerable and at risk, are still too often criminalised.
And because the government institutions don’t offer children the support they need, when they are released from prison, they often end up back on the streets in a vicious cycle.
Liz, Head of Programmes at Glad’s House Kenya, gave us an example. “A 14-year-old boy is on the streets. He is arrested, just for being on the streets, and taken to the remand home. There, he is meant to stay for a maximum of three months. But the reality is he’ll stay longer.”
“Children are assigned a ‘Children’s Officer’, whose job it is to reunite them with their family. But children go to the street often to escape violence or abuse at home and the Officer hasn’t dealt with their issues. So they might tell their Officer a fake address, because they don’t want to go back home, and they go straight back onto the streets.
After some time, he’ll be arrested again. We’ve met children who have been in this prison, 3, 4 or 5 times. It’s on and off, until they end up in adult prison.”
The conditions in the prisons put children at greater risk. Children sometimes don’t even have their own bed. The food is inadequate, and the systems are under-resourced, meaning the children who need support the most are going without.
And children face even worse conditions when held at police stations, with children reporting being placed in adult cells. One girl told us:
“There was no proper toilet and we had a bucket for short call. The bucket was overflowing and every time we asked for an empty one, I and other inmates were forced to use the same. In the morning I and another girl were forced to mop the floor”.
Care Packages distributed in prisons
Your support is helping to make a difference. The Glad’s House Kenya team are inside the prisons on a daily basis, working with the staff to make them a safer space for children. Because of them, roundups of street-connected children by police are less common and they’re no longer allowed to be locked away for being homeless. The team have also introduced case management forums, where staff in the prisons, including Children’s Officers and teachers, can get together and discuss children’s issues and how they can support them.
“We have seen a very big change in the perception of the children from the teachers. Now they understand them and we see their commitment to the children in how they work with them. Even the way they talk about them is very different from when we started.”