“Give me sweets” is one of the phrases filling the air of Nairobi and the streets of Kenya as a whole.

Anyone who has ever been a tourist in Kenya is probably familiar with those words and the collection of palms pressing themselves onto the windows of the tourist vans. While it may have seemed like an annoyance or an adorable group of Kenyan children, what is really pressing itself against those cars is one of Kenya’s greatest problems.

According to Kenya Children of Hope, there are over 250,000 children living on the streets of Kenya. However, with the 1.1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, the numbers are likely higher than what is reported.

Many of these children are sent by their parents to work or beg on the streets. Others are either orphaned or abandoned.

I remember walking through Nairobi with my parents as a young child and wondering why children and teenagers were lying down in the middle of squares in Nairobi. The answer I was given was that they were “sniffing glue.” I did not know what that meant at the time, but this drug problem is one of the many issues facing Kenyan street children.

The other issues facing these children include harassment (sexual and otherwise), a general danger of violence, sexual exploitation, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, abuse, neglect, hunger, lack of shelter, pregnancy and lack of sanitary conditions.

Yet another problem facing street children in Kenya is the information surrounding them. Kenya Children of Hope states that the number of street children that are counted and reported differ from study to study. There is little consistency and it is hard to target a problem that is not fully understood.

How can the United States, the Kenyan government or outside organizations know how much aid to put toward street children in Kenya if they do not know how many there are?

Another issue with the research on street children in Kenya is the under representation of street girls. Kenyan Children of Hope reports that 25 percent of street children in Nairobi District are girls. Part of the reason for lower coverage of street girls may be because of the occupations taken my each gender.

While boys tend to collect garbage, beg and find odd jobs, street girls often end up in the sex trade.

There are many good people working to help and feed these children on a small scale, like a teacher described by BBC news. Other organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages are doing good work and raising money to sponsor one child at a time.

While this work is necessary, the organizations working to help Kenyan street children need more funding. Rather than helping one child at a time, focus should be put on aiding all of the poor children in Kenya.

– Clare Holtzman

Sources: BBC, Kenya Children of Hope, SOS Children’s Villages
Photo: Amka Kenya