It is five o’clock in the morning, a cold mist lies upon the small Kenyan town of Kitale. Only if you walk around the empty town at the break of dawn you will notice the part of life that society is hiding. On cold concrete floors, all over the city, lie hundreds of children fast asleep. Their skinny bodies are covered in plastic bags or blankets as they sleep right next to each other to escape the cold and rigid nights. As the first rays of light are sipping through the trees the town is slowly awakening. Some children are running into the damp and misty fog while a young boy brings out an old t-shirt and starts cleaning up the children’s urine and dirt from the concrete floors. There is a silent agreement with the city dwellers, that the street children are allowed to sleep on the cold floors of the town, as long as every trace of them ever being there is erased in the morning. Nobody wants to know where the homeless children sleep at night.
They are forgotten by people. Ignored in social debates. Through raid by police they are forced to their deaths. The homeless children are a common sight in the modern Kenyan society. During the 20 years I have been travelling between Kenya and Finland the amount of street children have increased rapidly. Today, I find them in the smallest of cities, including the village I grew up in myself.
In Kenya not much is being done for the well being of these children yet people ensure that they disappear from the streets. The methods they use conflict the UN Human Rights Conventions, as much else in the country. In Africa children have been seen as the strongest rope that could tie couples and families together. They should not have to be left to cope on their own or turn to the streets to beg. Yet we see armies of children taking over major towns in Kenya as scavengers to whom the streets are the only source of livelihood.
Street children is a global phenomenon. In Colombia they are called ‘mariginais’ (criminal), in Rio de Janeiro, ‘polillas’ (moths) in Bolivia, ‘bui doi’ (dust children) in Vietnam, ‘saligoman’ (nasty kids) in Rwanda, ‘moustiques’ (mosquitos) in Cameroon and ‘chokora’ (garbage picker) in Kenya.
I got to know them by the name ‘glue boys’. Most street children reflect an image of misery, suffering and neglect. They are viewed by society as being dirty, dangerous, unhealthy thieves and so are consequently treated with apathy and disgust. The social stigmatisation directed at street children is based on their appearance.