“Dirty, violent and short.”
The invisible lives of children on the streets
Thousands of children call the streets of Mombasa their home. Hundreds of them not even 10 years old. They’re forced to grow up far too quickly. Many have fled violence at home only to face unspeakable abuse and violence on the streets. Young children become targets of human trafficking, sexual abuse, and exploitation.
Life on the streets is dirty, violent and short. Food is scarce and hunger is always there. Most children survive on ‘keroma’, waste food which they pick up from cafe bins and dumpsites. With nobody to turn to, and no safe space to shelter, street-connected children end up taking drugs to mask their traumas.
Food poisoning is common, and many children pick up other illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever and dysentery. The streets aren’t safe for children. When they become ill or injured through violence or in their day-to-day life on the street, they can’t get treatment. Life expectancy on the streets is horrifyingly low.
Children like Nadia tell us how they sleep with “one eye open”. At night, they fear they’ll be attacked. Or that someone will steal what little possessions they have.
Quiz Question! What do you think?
Why do children end up on the streets?
Nadia was just 13 when she left home for the streets.
“I left my home because of the fighting. If I had done something wrong, like forgetting to finish a chore, my mother would shout at me and beat me up.
Sometimes on the streets, people fight and, when you try to stop it, you get beaten up. One time, a group of people was fighting, and I tried to intervene, and I got cut with a machete.
I never have enough money to buy food. Sometimes people around me have food, and I just have to sit and watch them because I don’t have anything to eat.
Often, I wander around at night. I am hungry a lot and am harassed and beaten up. I feel sad and scared when I think about it.”
As a girl on the street, risks are everywhere. Younger girls will often attach themselves to older men for protection. But they still face sexual exploitation, rape and violence. Liz, Head of Programmes at our partner Glad’s House Kenya, describes her experiences seeing girls growing up on the streets:
“I meet many girls on the streets. They tell me how they’ve been here for over ten years. Many of them have children.
They’ve been arrested, they’ve been beaten, they’ve been raped and they’ve experienced trauma.
Some of the mothers we meet on the streets will give their children away. It’s this that hurts and traumatises them the most. But they can’t bear seeing their children going through the same suffering they went through”
Thankfully, soon after Nadia moved to the streets, an outreach worker with our partner, Glad’s House Kenya, found her. Thanks to your support, we can send outreach workers onto the streets day and night, every day of the week. For many children on the streets, they are the only trusted adults they can talk to. They’ll listen to children’s problems and offer them hot food, medical care, and work with them to help them build a life away from the streets.
“An outreach worker told me to come to the support centre where I can study, eat well and shower. I am being treated with respect here and that’s why I keep coming back. Now I can dress well and eat well, and am learning in the classrooms. We also learn ball games and they are teaching me to play football.
Here at the centre, I feel safe. I am happy when I am here, I forget all the problems on the streets.”
In 2021, with Glad’s House Kenya, we opened a brand-new support centre for children on the streets! It’s the only one of its kind in Mombasa. Having a permanent space means the team can meet all children’s physical and mental wellbeing needs. In the centre, children have access to:
The new centre opened in 2021 and gives hope to over 600 children who use it every year
For most children using the centre, it’s the only place they can feel safe. £7 buy a hot meal for 13 children like Nadia who have just been found on the streets. It might be the first hot meal they’ve had in months. Can you please give £7 today?
Images copyright Arete/ Brian Ongoro on behalf of Chance for Childhood, Quiz image ‘Streets of Kenya‘ by ‘greezer.ch’ used under CC BY-ND 2.0