Child beggars from neighbouring countries flock to Nakuru, again

County children's coordinator says generosity of Kenyans was now being exploited by criminals.

In Summary
  • The minors are either placed at strategic places along various streets or driven in wheelchairs, soliciting for alms from traders and pedestrians.
  • The child beggars are poorly dressed by their handlers, subjecting them to vagaries of harsh weather.
Child beggars suspected to have been trafficked from neighbouring states.
ORGANISED CRIME? Child beggars suspected to have been trafficked from neighbouring states.

Child beggars suspected to have been trafficked from neighbouring states have swamped streets of Nakuru town months after they were repatriated.

County children's coordinator Alice Wanyonyi said the generosity of Kenyans was now being exploited by criminals seeking to rake in money from the centuries-old habit that today has turned into organised crime.

Wanyonyi said the children have been repatriated several times in the recent past but always find their way back in unclear circumstances.

She further said that, through a multi-agency approach involving the National Police Service, Judiciary and Immigration department, the children's department was doing its best to end the menace.

“As a department we have intensified anti-child trafficking advocacy campaigns. We are working with other relevant state and non-state actors to combat child trafficking through prevention, protection,and prosecution,” Wanyonyi said. 

The minors, all with various forms of disability, are either placed at strategic places along various streets or driven in wheelchairs, soliciting for alms from traders and pedestrians.

The child beggars are poorly dressed by their handlers, subjecting them to vagaries of harsh weather.

Wanyonyi said those behind the syndicate could be exploiting the loophole of the tedious process of taking back the minors to their country of origin.

“To send them home, they have to be arrested and taken to court as children in need of care and protection. Then the court, in liaison with Children and Probation departments, may issue repatriation orders to the Officer Commanding Nakuru police station, who will house the children in the cells until necessary arrangements are made to transport them either to their respective countries’ border crossing points,” she said. 

The coordinator said the cost of repatriating the children is borne by the police department.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has since pledged to widen the directorate’s focus to human trafficking in the East African region.

“Our focus, I must admit, has been on the Northern corridor along the Kenyan border with Ethiopia, South Sudan and less on Uganda and Tanzania. I will see to it that this scope also gets covered adequately," he said.

Before embarking on the long journey, police must first establish a link with their colleagues in neighbouring states to receive the repatriated children at the boundaries of the countries.

Most of these child beggars in Nakuru have settled down in begging communes, renting adjacent houses in the informal settlements in Nakuru and its environs.

The beggars, according to Joab Odinga who operates a tea kiosk along Oginga Odinga Road, are brought to the streets every morning and distributed to different locations.

Our numerous efforts to unearth some of the beggars’ minders hit a dead end.

When we inquired from seven-year-old Juma on who had brought him to Kenyatta Avenue, he suddenly went quiet, turned his wheelchair the opposite direction and resorted to stoic silence effectively ending our interview.

The lad, who appeared nervous, eventually offered to give us back the Sh50 note that we had earlier given him and ‘allow him room’ to continue minding his business.

Most of the children with disability who are dropped on the streets in the morning and picked in the evenings by their ‘minders’ are daily exposed to hunger, and denied education and proper healthcare. Some of the wheelchair-bound minors we encountered are mentally challenged.

“It is a business by some people because the money these beggars are soliciting is not theirs. We also have very few local disabled children in the racket," Wanyonyi said. 

"The county government in collaboration with the county commissioner’s office and National Police Service has been rounding them up and presenting them to authorities for repatriation but they sneak back to the town.” 

Ms Aadila, 16, who operates outside the Jamia Mosque was brought into the country in July last year through Namanga border by two men who duped her that begging business was lucrative in Kenya.

“They said that I would be getting a minimum of Sh25,000 every month just by begging on the streets. According to the plan, I was to be put up in a shelter for disabled people. The shelter turned out to be a dingy semi-apartment structure with several single rooms where I had to pay rent from begging on the streets,”she says.

Aadila said that, in some cases, child beggars are subjected to physical violence if they fail to achieve their daily collection targets.

Former Municipal Council of Nakuru civic leader Mr William Ating’a said that about seven years ago, Kenyan towns and cities were virtually free of beggars with disability. 

“Kenyans and their government had, over the years, taken proactive steps to integrate persons with disability into the society through education, vocational training and economic empowerment,” Ating'a said. 

He said this culminated in the launch of the Cash Transfer for Persons with Severe Disabilities programme, formation of the National Council for Persons with Disability and establishment of the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities initiative.

Under Agpo, at least 30 per cent of government procurement is set aside for youth, women and PWDs to open business opportunities for these vulnerable groups.

 “We are aware of the East Africa Community integration plan and Kenya’s presidential declaration that we ease movement and trade across our borders. The challenge is; these disabled people cannot be isolated in the policy. It becomes very hard to enact our own policies. It is a hard scenario," the former councillor said. 

"Kenya has embraced pan-Africanism, allowing visa-free travel into the country, this must not be mistaken to giving a carte blanche to cross-border criminal gangs to exploit and abuse the disabled.”

Zainabu, who is based at Oginga Odinga rRad, is another 12-year-old from a neighbouring country brought into Kenya on promises of hitting a jackpot. She said she was full of hope for a better livelihood when she left home for the streets of Nakuru town.

“I came to Kenya after three women and a man promised us that we would be getting a monthly stipend for the disabled from the Kenyan government. They wrote down our names. At least that is what I can remember. We came as a group of about 30 people who were crippled and had different physical challenges,” she said. 

“We never got the money. They used us and dumped us after getting rich.” 

According to newspaper vendor Cyrus Musera, the beggars are always under deft surveillance by guides who bring them early in the morning, offer them meals and wheel the beggars back into the begging communes in the evenings.

Musera said the guides constantly move the beggars from one point to another during the day.

“They wheel them to strategic locations as early as 6 o’clock in the morning. The guides, mostly young men aged between 12 and 17 years, are tasked by the bosses to bring beggars food later in the day, relocate the beggars from place to place during different times of the day and take them somewhere to rest when the sun sets before returning them to streets in the evening,” he said. 

The newspaper vendor said the bosses, some of who have as many as 20 beggars under their wraps scattered in various parts of the town, make routine inspection of their ‘subjects’ at least thrice a day to "check on work progress" and pick cash collections already made.

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