Scandal of the street children that shames Kenya

Homeless teenagers living in fear of brutal treatment meted out by authorities, writes David Orr in Nairobi

Joseph Mwangi and his teenage friends are terrified of being arrested by the police. Their crime is to live rough on the streets of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Mostly they are picked up in ones and twos but, occasionally, there is a full-scale swoop. There was one the other day but everyone in Joseph's group managed to escape. They know what fate awaits them if they are caught and charged with vagrancy.

So far, Joseph, aged 17, has spent only one period in detention but he says it was the worst experience of his life. Last year, he was sent to the capital's notorious Industrial Area Remand Prison pending investigation of his case.

By the time he was released two and a half months later, he had suffered serious mental and physical abuse.

It is not rare for juveniles to be sent to adult remand prisons in Kenya.

During their time in detention, Joseph and the three other boys with him - all in their early teens - were regularly beaten by the other inmates. So overcrowded were the cells, they had to sleep on a latrine floor covered in human waste.

"In the remand prison, the adults steal rations from the younger ones", says Joseph, seated under a tree in Uhuru Park, central Nairobi. "To get it back, they are forced to do sexual things with them. Adults rape the younger ones and if you refuse you're beaten."

Joseph belongs to a group of more than 30 street kids known as the Cathedral Children. Each lunchtime they gather in the park in front of All Saint's Cathedral. The Anglican pastors give them food, their only solid meal of the day.

There are more than 10,000 street children in Nairobi alone. Most of them seem to come from poor, single-parent families. However, it is not just economic factors which push them on to the streets. The Cathedral Children, who mostly belong to the majority Kikuyu community, became homeless in 1992 after clashes in central Kenya between their people and warriors from President Daniel arap Moi's Kalenjin tribe.

In September of last year, soon after Joseph was released from the remand prison, a street kid known as Kajunia was shot dead by a police reservist in Uhuru Park. Kajunia was Joseph's best friend.

Near the spot where the Cathedral Children wait for their daily hand- out runs a foul open sewer. According to Joseph, Kajunia was whipped as he emerged from the sewer where he had gone to relieve himself. Then he was shot at point-blank range in the throat.

"The afande just fired his gun straight at Kajunia", says Joseph, using the Swahili term of respect for a policemen.

"He fell down in the water with his hands still raised in surrender. Then the afande spat on him and walked away. I was also beaten but I managed to escape. The afande is still around. He still comes after us and tries to beat us."

Joseph's testimony will feature in a forthcoming report on Kenya's street children by the New York-based human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch.

The report, which follows an inquiry into the juvenile justice system and police violence against street children, is likely to prove a damning indictment of institutionalised abuse of young people in Kenya.

"The police seem to think that all street children are thieves", says Elizabeth Oyugi of African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect.

"The children don't stand a chance, they're condemned from the start. Most of them complain of having been beaten by the police."

The network estimates that as many as 120 street children appear before Nairobi's juvenile court each week. For boys the charge is usually vagrancy, for girls loitering with intent. Children who plead not guilty are remanded in custody.

"In court they're treated like criminals", says Mrs Oyugi. "The justice system is extremely intimidating. They don't get a lawyer to explain to them what's happening.

"Children of 16 and even younger are being sent to the Industrial Area Remand Prison which is for adults. The conditions there are appalling, mainly because of overcrowding and inadequate rations."

According to recent estimates, as many as five people a day are dying of disease in the prison. When questioned about conditions in Kenyan prisons, the former home affairs minister, Francis Lotodo, replied: "A prison is not a hotel."

It is only through the reports of former inmates like Joseph Mwangi that it is possible to get information on Kenya's prison conditions. Human rights organisations, journalists and lawyers have been refused free access to the prisons.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot