Liz Mnengwah, Head of Programmes at our partner Glad’s House Kenya, told us what it’s like to be a child living on the streets of Mombasa and how COVID-19 has made their situation worse.
When you meet a child in the street, you know if they’re new to the streets or have been there for a long time. New children walk a certain way and talk to adults a certain way. But they all face the same risks. With no one to turn to, they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of, either by people in the community, or even their peers on the streets. They are exposed to police arrests, sexual violence and bullying by older children.
Once you’re on the streets, you have to survive by yourself. You make friends, but they don’t stay around for long. Most of the time children will just roam around. They have no one to show them the right way to go, nobody to talk to them or stand up for them. Most people don’t understand street-connected children, including the government. People understand children’s inner issues. For example, well wishers may come to the streets to give out food. They come, give out food and then they leave. But this only touches the surface of the support these children need.
For girls on the streets, it’s even more complicated and as a mother myself, it is so difficult to see. Girls are forced to be attached to an older man, for their security and survival. When we first meet them, they’ve often already turned to drugs as a way of coping with the abuse and trauma they are exposed to.
For a girl to be on the streets without becoming pregnant is a miracle. You will meet a 17-year-old girl, for example, with a small child. She’s been on the streets for 10 years or more and delivered her child while living on the streets. When you speak to her, she will be so positive about her child, expressing how she wants her child to go to school. But she doesn’t know where to start with educating her child. She has no education, she’s experienced trauma, been arrested, raped and beaten. With all her traumas, having to look after a child is so difficult.
So, she begins to feel powerless in caring for her child. As a result, some of these young mothers will give their children away. They wish the best for their children, but they cannot provide for them. This is what hurts and traumatises them the most, but they can’t bear to see their children suffering or go through the same suffering they went through.
COVID-19 has hugely impacted our ability to work with the children. They see us as family. When we can’t be there, we don’t know what will happen to them. They wake up, they see us. In the evening, they see us. They share their worries, and we are there to understand and talk to them. The movement restrictions and curfews implemented as a result of COVID-19 in Kenya limited the vital support we could provide to these vulnerable children, who need us now move than ever.
Your support, through Chance for Childhood’s COVID-19 Response Fund has meant there can be a team present with the children in the mornings and in the evenings. We’ve been able to cover a big area of the streets in Mombasa. We provide food and are to support and talk to them. When children can’t get the right support, especially when it comes to abuse, it haunts you forever. Sometimes we aren’t able to work with a child until the end – because there are so many children who need our help and our resources are always stretched.
Children often need specialist support. This Survivors Support Fund will give us the opportunity to link children with specialist counsellors and psychologists. It will also mean we can provide children with quality medical attention and the appropriate medication – which is something we cannot deliver at the moment.
Head of Programmes at Glads House Kenya