Police brutality against street children is not a new issue. A recent horrifying attack on street children in Eldoret, Kenya, by local and paramilitary police units has sparked for calls for the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate. On a Sunday in May, police attacked the “California Barracks” – Eldoret’s central landfill, home to 700 young adults and children. Beaten and shot at, they pushed the children to the Sosiani River, leaving them to drown and using tear gas on those that tried to escape. Six were killed, with a further five bodies found up river.
“This was not casual, workaday bullying but a carefully planned operation, systematic, meticulous – and one which city authorities have until now largely managed to cover up.”
The Eldoret government are treating street children as a problem that can be solved by murdering innocent children, or forcing them to flee for their lives. The governor’s administration have denied the attack, however deputy governor Daniel Chemno has firmly stated street children will not be tolerated, and those with origins outside of Eldoret will be transported out of the city. Chemno argues this is merely a measured response to rising crime rates – largely blamed on street children.
This is a clear violation of their human rights. Yet it continues to happen, partially because street children are not seen as human. Earlier this year we spoke to hundreds of street children about their rights. One child told us they were called “animals” by the authorities.
The government of Eldoret is failing to see the broader issues that cause children to end up on the streets. Fred Achola, Director of Glad’s House, an NGO supporting street-connected children in Mombasa, told us the juvenile justice system is a large contributor to children being on the street. Many children in the juvenile justice system are transported to far off destinations away from their family or friends – a major abuse of a child’s rights. Once they leave the government rehabilitation centre they are isolated from any support system, and many are forced to live or work on the streets.
Glad’s House is one of many organisations trying to change this. They are determined not to point the finger of blame, but to see “solutions by changing perceptions and opinions” in Mombasa. The NGO organises training and workshops on child rights and protection for inspectorate officers to try and change the way street children are treated. A police officer who attended the training gave positive feedback. “We have acquired lots of knowledge in these 2 days. We really wish we could have had this knowledge earlier. We have been acting very wrongly…Most of us will from now act very differently during our operations”. “If well-funded”, Achola tells CSC, “Glad’s House could lead in training trainers so that every city would understand street connected children, including the governor of Eldoret”.
Pendekezo Letu, a charity working with street children in Nairobi and Kiambu, are also determined to create positive change. They offer training in the juvenile justice system that focuses on the best interests of the child. PKL work with “the police through trainings, and provide materials including mattresses and beds to children protection units (CPUs) in police stations.” They are also part of child watch advocacy forums such as Nairobi Child Protection Network, and Street Children and Youths Organizations Network, and give legal counselling to street children.
At Consortium for Street Children, we have been working to implement the first piece of authoritative UN guidance on street-connected children’s rights. The UN General Comment on children in street situations is a once in a generation opportunity to create lasting change to street children, and to ensure that horrific incidents such as those in Eldoret do not happen again.
If you would like to find out more about our work, or the work of Glad’s House or Pendekezo Letu, please visit www.streetchildren.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign the petition to push the UN to investigate these killings.