Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nairobi Street Children Abused by Law Officers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nairobi Street Children Abused by Law Officers

Article excerpt

Joseph Mwangi and his teenage friends are terrified of being arrested by the police. Their crime: being homeless 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. When news of a swoop starts to circulate, Joseph and his group go into hiding. They know what awaits them if they are caught and charged with vagrancy.

So far, Joseph 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 2-1/2 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 says he and the three other boys with him - all in their early teens - were regularly beaten by the other inmates. The cells were so overcrowded, they had to sleep on a latrine floor covered in human waste. "In the remand prison, the adults steal rations from the younger ones," Joseph says, seated under a tree in Uhuru Park in central Nairobi. "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 Saints' Cathedral, where the Anglican pastors give them 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 that push them onto 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. Last September, soon after Joseph was released from prison, he witnessed his best friend, Kajunia, being shot dead by a police reservist in Uhuru Park. …

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