Tags: ,

Categories: Blog

In 1989, UNICEF estimated 100 million children were growing up on urban streets around the world. 14 years later UNICEF reported: ‘The latest estimates put the numbers of these children as high as 100 million’. And even more recently: ‘The exact number of street children is impossible to quantify, but the figure almost certainly runs into tens of millions across the world. It is likely that the numbers are increasing’ . The 100 million figure is still commonly cited, but has no basis in fact . Similarly, it is debatable whether numbers of street children are growing globally or whether it is the awareness of street children within societies which has grown. While there are understandable pressures for policies to be informed by aggregate numbers, estimates of street child populations, even at city levels, are often hotly disputed and can distract rather than inform policy makers.

The problem

of street children is not limited only to the Third World. There are hundreds of thousands of children running away from home and living on the streets of Europe, Canada, USA. That is because the reasons for this phenomenon are not just economical  it is a rather complex issue that urges to become a pandemic problem for many governments in the World. Among the most often given reasons by children are:

  • Child abuse,
  • Neglect,
  • Peer pressure,
  • Sensation-seeking,
  • Other brothers and sisters.

A study shows that homelessness does not come alone, children reach to substances and drugs t:

  • Relief from the pressures of the street
  • Peer Pressure
  • To sleep easily
  • To be able to endure pain, violence, and hunger

In Africa

  • A study in Ethiopia shows that: the Government estimates that 150,000 children live on the streets.  The average age at which children first become involved in street life in Ethiopia is 10.7 years
  • Around 1 million children are believed to be on the streets of Egypt, most in Cairo and Alexandria.
  • Nigeria– over 95% of the children on the streets of Akwa Ibom State, have been stigmatised as “witches” by pastors and abandoned to live on the streets by their parents.
  • South Africa, estimated 10-12000 homeless children. The average age of the respondents to a study on street children was between 13 and 14 years. A similar study also found street children in South Africa to be between 7 and 18 years of age, with the majority between 13 and 16.
  • Ghana, a ‘headcount’ of street children and young mothers in the different parts of Accra, the capital of Ghana, has categorised the numbers as 21140 street children, 6000 street babies, 7170 street ‘mothers’ under the age of 20
  • Rwanda, more than half of the boys interviewed in a Rwanda study and more than three-quarters of the girls, including 35% of those under ten, admitted they were sexually active; 63% of the boys said they had forced a girl to have sex with them; 93% of the girls reported having been raped.
  • Most children living on the street in Lusaka, Zambia are orphans: 22% had lost both parents, 26% had lost their father, and 10% had lost their mother.


The Children of Kenya

Providing Accurate Numbers: One of the most disputed aspects of knowledge on children living and working on the streets of Nairobi is that related to their numbers. What is the magnitude of the problem, quantitatively speaking? There are several differing statistics about the number of street children in Nairobi, Kenya. A study commissioned by the Consortium of Street Children (CSC) brings some staggering numbers:

  • In 1999 it was reported that there were over 50,000 street children in Nairobi, and the government estimated that their numbers grew at 10 % per year
  • In 2001 it was stated that conservative estimates indicated that 300,000 children live and work on the streets in Kenya, with over 50% of them concentrated in and around the capital Nairobi
  • In 2001 another report estimated that there were about 40,000 street children in Kenya, with about half concentrated in Nairobi
  • It was estimated in 2007 that there were 250,000- 300,000 children living and working on the streets across Kenya with, with more than 60,000 of them in Nairobi
The Invisible Girls Visible: Girls generally tend to be invisible in most studies on street children. The recent study of street families in Nairobi’s central business district commissioned by the NCBDA in 2001 states that boys outnumber girls nine to one. However, according to the findings of a study (Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) for SNV/Kenya and German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) ) that covered 12 locales in Nairobi District girls constitute on average about 25 percent of the population of children counted in Nairobi District. In Mukuru, Dandora/Maili Saba and Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani, the proportions are even higher (40%, 31% and 28% respectively).Disaggregation of the findings by age reveals a narrower gender gap in the under-five age bracket. As many as 45 percent of the under-five children were found to be females. While boys often survive on collecting garbage, and help load and unload market goods, earning them up to 80 KSH (US $1) a day, girls are forced to resort to prostitution in order to get clothes or food. According to a 2004 report from The Cradle and The Undugu Society, they earn as little as 10 or 20 KSH ($0.30-0.50) for each client.
The Age Bracket: The same research reveals the dominance of eleven to fifteen year olds on the streets of Nairobi, constituting over 50 percent of some of the recorded cases. The children below the age of five constitute 7 percent of the total study sample.


 The Ethnic Factor: The study exposed that the majority of the children, regardless of gender, identify themselves as Agikuyu. However, it also suggests that the population of Gikuyus among the street children may have been grossly exaggerated in other studies. While the Gikuyus constitute a significant proportion (46%) of all ethnic groups represented among the street children, the non-Gikuyus in the street children population, put together, are more in number. This notwithstanding, most of the children on the streets can speak the Kikuyu language. Other than Kikuyu, knowledge of Kiswahili was found to be almost universal next the ‘Sheng’ – their own street language.

Schooling: Overall, only 39.5 percent of the children counted and interviewed for the above mentioned study were attending school while an overwhelming number of children were not participating in any form of formal or non-formal education. Nevertheless a total of 48.5 percent of the girls and 36.5 percent of the boys claimed to be involved in some form of educational programme.  In Korogocho 56.2 percent of the boys claimed to be going to school. The highest number of children who claimed to be going to school fell within the age bracket of 11-15 years translating to 56.71 percent of the total number of respondents.

Parental Occupation and “Streetism”: Unemployment among parents of the street children is quite high. Almost a quarter of the children claim that their mothers do not work whereas less than a tenth say their fathers do not. Analyses of the parental occupations suggests that these are menial, poorly paying and often highly labour intensive jobs. The implications of this may be many including inability to meet basic family obligations leading to broken homes, high incidences of child neglect and abandonment, absentee parenthood and a tendency to encourage children to obtain employment by any means in order to supplement the family income. This view is supported by the findings that indicate that children are sent out to the streets to earn a living for themselves and even to support other members of the family.

Most employed mothers are said to be engaged in petty trading while the fathers are reportedly doing more skilled but also unskilled manual work. Some parents also engage in household and domestic work, farming, illicit brewing, and begging for a living. Others do professional / managerial/technical or clerical work, proprietorship, guarding homes/premises, thievery/robbery or engaged in commercial sex work for a living. The percentage of girls with non-working parents is higher than that of boys (6.8% of the female responses and 17.1% of the male responses for the mother’s occupation; 2.8% of the female and 6.9% of the male responses). A number of children do not know anything about their parents’ occupations.

Children ‘Of’ and ‘On’ the Streets: Many of the children claim that their parents are either deceased or have abandoned them. Abandonment by or death of fathers is found to be more common than abandonment by or death of mothers. The implication is that there are more single mothers than there are fathers. The death of either or both parent and abandonment in turn increases the likelihood of children turning or being turned out to the streets because of limited or no resources for their sustenance within the extended family setting. Children either orphaned or abandoned are found to be among those who have found permanent residence on the streets (approximately 14% of the total sample). Among the children ‘of’ the streets, over 65 percent are male. Most of the children who identified themselves fully with the streets are to be found in Mukuru and City Centre.

Time spent on the Streets: About 63 percent of the children have been on the streets either on a part time or full time basis for up to 5 years. Over 12 percent have been on the streets for between 6-10 years while another 13 percent can not remember when they had started to frequent the streets.

Reasons for Streetism: The study we referred to earlier found that children were on the streets for a variety of reasons the major ones being, in order of frequency: to earn money, search for food and/or look for recreation— all described in the literature on street children as “pull” factors. These “pull” factors are symptomatic for children from economically poor families who suffer from lack of adequate attention and care at home as their parents spend most of their time and energy in securing the mere survival. It is also not surprising that “domestic conflicts” and “domestic violence” featured as one key “push” factor for streetism.

Significantly none of the children cite ‘sex’ as a reason for being on the streets. It is probable that of necessity rather than on their own volition, once on the streets children are introduced into sexual activity either for recreation or money or they are being forced into it and/or raped.

The Street Sub-Culture: Once on the streets others initiate the children into streetism in order for them to survive. Children’s rights are violated constantly as they are often harassed and exploited and they exploit others in turn. In absence of adult care and guidance they are forced to assume adult responsibilities and take care of themselves and sometimes their siblings and fellow children at a tender age. Out of necessity they have to look for work and they are easy to exploit through meagre or sometimes no pay. They are thrust into a bleak, harsh and depraved environment often fraught with constant and sustained danger in various forms such as:

  • Harassment
  • Violence amongst themselves and towards others
  • Drug taking and trafficking
  • Sexual exploitation accompanied by a high risk of contracting STIs and HIV/AIDS
  • Loneliness and fear
  • Physical and emotional abuse and neglect
  • Starvation
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Early, unplanned and uncontrolled pregnancy and parenthood
  • Poor hygienic and sanitation conditions

The Public Perceptions: Interviews with the members of the security forces and the public and the children themselves show that children feel that they are unfairly blamed by members of the public for theft, robbery and other infractions of the law. Often they are beaten and harassed for real of imagined misdemeanours. The younger children, especially boys identify the police as among the persons feared most because they continually harass them. Girls fear the older street boys the most because they organise gang rapes sometimes ‘to teach them a lesson” if they decline to have sex with someone, break up with someone or as mere punishment. The girls report that they could be taken advantage of and being gang raped if they merely visit another base and they are known to be unmarried [without a boyfriend protecting them]. Younger children expressed fears of being stolen/abducted and often feel insecure when strangers approach them. The older girls talk of incidents of colleagues who have been sexually molested and subjected to bestiality. These experiences heighten their sense of insecurity and vulnerability.





  1. It’s difficult to find experienced people on this subject,
    however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

  2. Metro kenya youth and street children operations says:

    Sadly, the numbers are growing and the workers are few if only we would have more people volunteer to go an extra mile to see a child out of the street life. We have dealt with these children and i tell you they are not the monsters we make them to be, most of them are are bright, willing to learn, lost souls who only need attention love care support and a lot of counseling because some of the things these children go through are shocking and you cant blame them being on the streets.

    1. jojobean100 says:

      How can I help living here in America? How can we help feed these children?

  3. Tamara says:

    This has been really helpful . Thank you.

  4. Regina says:

    Is there a policy in Kenya for protecting street children research participants? I mean apart from the general protection for children as a vulnerable population…

  5. […] the streets of various slums around Nanyuki or being adopted into a family after being orphaned (, the resources that Hope and Homes offer are an incredible step up in many ways. The state of Hope […]