Page last updated at 15:04 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Orphans continue a tough struggle on the streets

By Will Ross
BBC News, Eldoret, Kenya

A report by Save the Children says that four out of five children in orphanages still have a living parent.

Orphanage life means that millions of children are unnecessarily at risk of the widespread dangers of living in institutions, including rape, exploitation, trafficking and beatings.

An orphaned child sniffs glue in the streets of Eldoret, Kenya
Many orphaned children in Kenya prefer life on the streets

In Kenya a combination of a lack of money, physical abuse, the effects of HIV/AIDS and last year's inter-tribal violence are taking their toll.

Many children forced onto the streets are pushed into a life of crime.

'The Barracks'

Just off the main street running through the centre of Eldoret you will find an army of glue-sniffing street kids.

Almost all the children have a small bottle of glue hanging from their mouths and with glazed eyes they appear semi tranquilised.

"It makes me sleepy and I have less stress," says 15-year-old Jimmy, who after years on the streets looks younger than 10.

"I live on the verandas in a box," he tells me.

"Life here is very hard with no food, nowhere to sleep and no-one to care for you," says Evans Kariuki.

"It is not safe. You can die here. People fight. There is a lot of violence. The police come sometimes and take you and beat you."

Broken families

In another part of Eldoret I meet Mary, her husband James and their six-year-old daughter Grace.

Neither of them have regular employment and their single-room home smells of an illegal alcoholic brew - one way of raising a few coins to buy food.

Mother Mary and six-year-old daughter Grace
Mary and her daughter Grace struggle through poverty on a daily basis

They were a family of four, but at the age of seven Juma ran away for a life on the streets.

"I tried to look for him but it was difficult because his friends on the streets kept hiding him," said James.

Mary is sure Grace will not follow in her brother's footsteps.

"I can take care of her because she is a girl," said Mary before adding that Grace had been going to nursery school, but she is now at home because they cannot afford the fees of less than $20 (£12) a term.

New hope

I later meet Juma at a centre for former street children. Now 13, he is getting food and goes to a primary school thanks to ECCO - Ex Street Children Community Organisation.

Many children have been rehabilitated, but problems still remain
Many children have been rehabilitated, but problems still remain

"I ran away because I was beaten at home. Life used to be good at home but whenever I made a mistake my mother beat me. Once my finger was even cut with a knife, "said Juma who now dreams of becoming a pilot.

For the staff at ECCO discipline is a challenge.

"The hardest thing is keeping them in line - asking them to follow rules which they are not used to and most of them have been sniffing glue for years so stopping that is hard," said Mercy Rotich, the programme officer for social work and education at ECCO.

Hard struggle

As I leave the centre there is news of another crisis.

A 13-year-old street boy has been raped and after being discharged from hospital urgently needs a home.

Institutions have sprung up in Eldoret to take in some of the street children but there are many complaints of inhumane treatment and concerns that they do not have the children's interest at heart.

"You talk to a child who has been in a home for a few months and they do not want to go back.

You talk to a child who has been in a home and they do not want to go back
Mercy Rotich

"They tell you about the problems of being beaten or denied food. These homes are getting money but the money is not reaching the beneficiaries," said Mercy Rotich.

"Some of them are not going to school and yet there is money for them to be taken to school. They are not being taken back home yet they have funds to trace these homes."

The government agrees that there are problems with some of the homes and knows some organisations are formed not to help the children but to make money.

"Briefcase NGOs - I know they are there and they are possibly swindling money from the donors and funders and well-wishers. It is now our role to ensure that what is given to the child is not going to the dogs," said Philip Nzenge, the children's officer in charge of the district.

'Damning indictment'

Back at The Barracks several street children told me they had run away from Eldoret Rescue Centre and preferred life on the streets.

The Rescue Centre is a series of metal shacks perched on a hillside on the outskirts of town.

The staff denied that children were beaten but admitted that some of them struggled to cope with order and discipline after a life on the streets.

Although this is a step up from life on the streets, conditions for the 233 children are grim and bunk beds are crammed into the metal shacks.

Staff said there was a plan to build permanent structures.

I found a month-old girl there - born on the streets but perhaps destined to spend her next 18 years in this centre.

It is no wonder then that Save The Children is calling for stricter monitoring of children's institutions.

It also wants funds to be channelled into helping families support their children describing it as outrageous that children are separated from their families when they have parents who, given a bit of help, could look after them.

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