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January 21, 2019

Should Poverty Be Excuse For Criminality?

A few weeks ago, I came across a newspaper article highlighting the plight of a few female hawkers –mothers to be specific, who had been arrested by City Council askari’s for their illegal trading on the streets of Nairobi’s CBD. The women were selling an array of fruits and vegetables on the sidewalks, which is against the City Council’s by-laws.

What caught my attention most about this article is the comments it generated from readers. In their feedback, readers expressed their anger and dismay at the Council askari’s for their cold-hardheartedness –how dare they detain mothers with children strapped on their backs! Don’t they have any humanity in them, they wondered.

“Why arrest a poor woman who is just trying to look for money to feed her children? She is not stealing from anyone, but simply trying to eke a decent living for crying out loud!” they furiously opined. Readers were livid because of the children caught in the middle of it all -by no fault of their own.They demanded the immediate release of these mothers, if only for the sake of the innocent children. Understandably so, because even I felt very pained at the thought of the children in the holding cells.However, it got me thinking too. While ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, is poverty a justifiable enough excuse? Is it okay for a seemingly poor person to disrespect the law and be excused for it –simply because they are trying to fend for their children?As a journalist, I have had the opportunity to listen to the stories of many low-income commercial sex workers. Many of them do not do it for fun, or for the pleasure it is supposed to give them.

No, most of them are in it for the money. They need that money to take their kids to school, to give them a better kind of life than they themselves had. These women sell their bodies for a small fee –enough to feed their children for the day. They claim not to know any other avenue to make money. Selling their bodies is only what they know best.However, in Kenya, prostitution remains illegal. Many times these women are arrested and are imprisoned. Many times they serve their jail terms and soon return to the streets. Then the are arrested again.

And the cycle continues. But despite the emotions that these women and their children evoke, the truth is that poverty should never be used as an excuse for breaking the law. No matter how poor one is, the lack of food or the yearning for better education opportunities for their children should never be used as an excuse to break laws.

Many times, parents are ready to do anything for the sake of their children and if selling fruits, vegetables or flesh on the streets is the only avenue to prevent a woman’s child from dying of hunger, then many mothers are willing to do so, regardless of the law’s dictates. Poverty might be a contributing factor yes, but unfortunately not justifiable enough. Otherwise then we would all be committing crimes because who doesn’t want a better life for their children?

I know of many low-income people who toil hard to provide the basic needs for their families. Despite extremely difficult circumstances, they engage in jobs that do not involve them breaking the law. And yet they manage to feed, clothe and educate their children. It is possible to do things the right way and succeed. It may be a long, difficult road, but it is the right thing to do. And it has its rewards.

So for readers to comment on that article saying that the City Council askari’s should release the law-breaking women for the sole reason that they were only trying to fend for their children, I’m afraid I don’t share similar sentiments.

The writer is a motherhood blogger. Follow her on

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