Street families on Kenyatta Avenue in the city centre. PHOTO | FILEStreet families on Kenyatta Avenue in the city centre. PHOTO | FILE
By COLLINS OMULO, @gentlenique [email protected]

Nairobi, once an unrivaled green city in the sun, is now chocking with street families who have invaded various alleys, streets and pavements.

The street families, mostly teenagers and mothers with children, have taken a stranglehold of the capital with Kimathi Street, Moi Avenue, Agha Khan Walk and Tom Mboya Avenue being some of the worst affected stretches in the city centre.

The menace is now a bustling industry raking in millions of shillings every year where the children are tasked with begging from every passerby be it day or night time.

There are others who come with all sorts of tricks in their repertoire ranging from displaying sick children, purporting to suffer from a terrible disease, having lost their family or just lost in town and would like to get money to travel back home.

There is a particular one, a middle-aged man, always patrolling Kimathi Street and Kenyatta Avenue with a loaf of bread begging for cash to buy tea.

Then there are those who sit at strategic corners, that experience high human traffic, with scary diseases and surrounded by a group of their own sympathisers who act as bait to attract the passers-by.

PERSISTENT BEGGING

Nairobi is one of the towns in the country with the highest number of street families running into thousands, with estimates placing the number at over 60,000, and their presence in the streets has been blamed for an increase in petty crime and muggings besides being a nuisance for their persistent begging that borders on harassment.

According to statistics from the Special Programmes department, there are currently 250,000 to 300,000 people living on the streets countrywide even though the government in 2003 established a Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund with the aim of reducing the number of street families but nothing much was achieved.

Last month, Nairobi county executive for Education and Gender Janet Ouko said that most of the street families are not from Kenya but the neighbouring countries of Tanzania and Uganda after complaints of a huge presence of foreign beggars in the city centre.

Ms Ouko said it is believed that the foreigners are lured to Kenya by unscrupulous people with the promise of getting jobs only to be taken to streets to beg.

“We are now moving to the real sponsors. We have intelligence that some money-minded individuals are behind this,” she said.

CRACKDOWN

To rein on the increasing number of street families, the county government of Nairobi is conducting a crackdown to flush out street urchins from the city centre which has seen over 300 street children removed from the streets and taken to several rehabilitation centres, among them Kayole, Bahati, Shauri Moyo, Joseph Kang’ethe and Makadara.

But this is not the first attempt to get the families off the streets of the capital.

The Narc government in 2003 introduced a street children rehabilitation programme led by the National Youth Service to guide and provide the children with skills to become self-reliant.

The rehabilitation centres were to reform and make the street youth fit in society, provide guidance and counselling, training in semi-skilled trades, spiritual and physical nourishment, food, clothing and shelter among others.

But with all the efforts, nothing major came out of the programme as the children flocked back to the streets as they found no meaningful form of employment to stop them from the streets.

This begs the question whether this operation will be a success as most of the rehabilitated children still get back to the streets since there is no proper follow up to ensure that those who acquire relevant skills are absorbed into the work force.

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