Months after the Kenyan government began resettling hundreds of thousands of people displaced during clashes that followed the December elections, hundreds of children are living without their parents in harsh conditions in Rift Valley province.
"At least 1,123 children have been separated from their parents in Molo," said Irene Mureithi, executive director of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK), a charitable organisation, established in 1955 to implement programmes aimed at protecting and promoting children's rights.
Molo, a town 160km northwest of Nairobi, is the most affected. At least 490 boys and 633 girls, mainly younger than 12, live in rented rooms in the slum areas of the town.
"They are vulnerable to rape, sickness, child trafficking and other hazards while fending for themselves," Mureithi added.
The Ministry of Special Programmes launched Operation Rudi Nyumbani (Return Home) on 5 May to resettle the more than 300,00 displaced people (IDPs) who had been sheltering in formal camps in various parts of the country. Now, only around 25,000 are living in IDP camps, but some 100,000 are in transit sites located near their places of origin.
During the post election violence hundreds of houses were torched, especially in Rift Valley Province.
Some of the returnees chose to leave their children behind in Molo because they felt it was still unsafe in their home areas. "They are saying that they do not want to expose their children to any risks when they go to the farms," Mureithi said.
A lack of schools and teachers in the areas of return is also an issue. At least 200 of the children who are living apart from their parents in Molo are scheduled to sit their national primary and secondary examinations this year.
For people like Njuguna Migwi, a father of seven who lost his home to arsonists, shelter is still a problem.
“The tents [we now live in] are small, we have been forced to have different tents for the men, women and children,” Migwi told IRIN by phone from his farm near Molo. “If the people can get some decent shelter then they will be in a position to bring back their children and concentrate on farming.”
“Older children are being left behind to eke a living,” he said.
Some of the children have been left behind to guard family property that could not be transported immediately to the transit camps.
|The suffering the children have gone through in the last eight months is likely to manifest in Marasmus and Kwashiakor...|
Many of the children are looking after younger siblings and have little access to services, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
There is inadequate food for the children. As a result, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has expressed fears of malnutrition.
“The parents mainly send in potatoes and maize. This kind of food is not appropriate for the children,” Yusuf Abdi Sheikh, the Rift Valley Provincial Children’s Officer, told IRIN. Food supplies from parents are also unreliable.
“The suffering the children have gone through in the last eight months is likely to manifest in Marasmus and Kwashiakor,” Abdi said. “We are lobbying for supplies of Unimix and other nutritious foods for the children.”
According to Molo resident, Peter Mwaniki, many of the children are now begging for food in the town.
“Those attending schools are relying on their classmates for clothes,” Mwaniki, a father of five, told IRIN. “There has also been an increase in the number of underage girls frequenting nightclubs in the town,” he said.
According to UNICEF, some of the children have had to take on menial jobs in order to afford their rent and food. The rent for the rooms has doubled to 300 shillings (US$5) a month this year.
"Girls, particularly, are susceptible to engaging in transactional sex in order to make ends meet. One of the IDPs interviewed confirmed that there was a high risk of teenage pregnancy among the teenage girls living in Molo,” UNICEF Child Protection Officer Catherine Kimotho told IRIN.
"Some parents or relatives visit their children once or twice a month while others have not visited their children for several months," she added.
UNICEF is advocating for a comprehensive response to this issue, one that helps parents provide their children with food, clothing and other necessities.
Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
|IDPs at a church compound in Molo in February: During the post election violence hundreds of houses were torched|
Those younger than five and adolescent girls have been identified by the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), UNICEF’s partner agency, as needing immediate emergency monitoring.
Mureithi of CWSK said the children are emotionally disturbed, withdrawn and affected. "It is strange that the parents have resigned themselves to the fact that the children can live alone," she said. With the nearest farms located at least 30 km from Molo town travel costs are inhibitive for most of the parents.
"There is a need for more social workers to improve reunification as well as raise awareness on the risks posed by this situation," Mureithi said. So far 178 children in 14 districts in the country have been reunited with their parents by CWSK, 231 cases are pending re-unification.
Aid agencies are helping parents visit their children and vice-versa to encourage family reunification. The NCCK is also involved in a 'mentorship' programme providing psycho-social support and recreation services for the children.
The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) is focusing on reuniting unaccompanied children who do not know the whereabouts of their parents. At least 20 such cases exist in the Molo area according to KRCS tracing programme officer Nicholas Makutsa.
However, according to Abdi, “Very little is being done to assist the children in Molo.”