• Factors include poverty, lawlessness, alcohol and drug abuse
There are many socio-economic factors contributing to the increase of street children in Meru municipality, according to a study by the University of Nairobi.
These range from poverty, lawlessness, alcohol and drug abuse, social permissiveness family break-up and child abuse.
The study also reported inadequate goodwill from the government towards supporting poor families, as evidenced by lack of feeding programmers in public primary schools and free primary education.
The study, done by Susan Ngaku in 2015, examines factors contributing to the increase in number of street children in Imenti North subcounty.
It was guided by three objectives and research questions: to establish how poverty, family status and child abuse contribute to the number of street children in Meru municipality.
The study was guided by the social development theory, coined by Erik Erikson (New York, 1969). The secondary target population was 950 children. Three rehabilitation centres were purposively sampled to participate in the study: SOS children's village, Kaaga MCK street children's home and Jerusha Mwiraria children's home.
The study concluded that the government urgently needs to facilitate feeding programmes in public primary schools, enforce compulsory free primary education and educate stakeholders on their roles in promoting street children to access quality education.
The study recommends that the church focus on spiritual formation and teaching on marriage and family life to strengthen the basic unit of society, which is the safety net for the children.
The government, as well as the civil society, are urged to spearhead massive education on the rights of children. This would reduce the rampant case of children rights abuses brought about through ignorance.
WHAT COUNTY IS DOING
In 2013, the Meru government started a programme of rehabilitating street children. Then Youth executive Mary Mwiti, who spearheaded the process, said about 100 street children had been rehabilitated.
In March 2014, the county accused Isiolo of sending its street children to get rehabilitated in Meru. The Star found out that a number of street children in Meru town come from Isiolo and Laikipia counties.
It also emerged that some pharmacies in Meru county sell antidepressant pills to street children. Their argument is that they are better than sniffing glue and their effects last longer and do not cause stigma. However, they are silent on side-effects.
Residents advise visitors not to go to Gakoromone at night because it is dangerous, as some of the street children who failed to be rehabilitated and are now fully grown adults have turned into thugs and steal even in daytime to be able to buy glue and other drugs.
Catholic priest Father Francis Liwa, who has been taking care of some of the street children, said some have managed to further their education.
Those who are not lucky are forced to hustle for food in the streets, where some even go to the extent of searching in dustbins. When night reaches, some pull out cartons and lay them on floor in front of shops and take a nap. Surprisingly, some sleep deeply up to 9am, and are woken by shop owners who want to open their businesses.
Learn from the Streets project manager Faith Gikunda said it is difficult to control some of the street children, especially when they have eaten well and start sniffing glue.
“They normally get too high, to a point that they are hard to manage, but we have gotten used to it, one has to be abrasive with them,” Gikunda said.
Gikunda said in Meru town and Makutano shopping centre, there are about 150 youths in the streets. Those below 18 years are about 74, while the entire street community is about 250.