INCLUSION OF THE EXCLUDED; STRATEGIES FOR PROTECTING STREET FAMILIES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Street families are often left out in the conversation about national policy framework. There is scant data about this often-forgotten and marginalized population. The net effect of this is that the street families, who are at the bottom of the pyramid in Kenya, are further left behind and denied access to social and financial services.

However, the situation is slowly improving as the major development implementation partners in the sector develop data that will inform effective and sustainable policy interventions for the street families. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection developed a Strategic Plan for the 2018-2022 period. In 2018, Kenya conducted its first ever Street Families Census.

AfCiC is doing its best to fill in the gaps and assist the relevant policy-makers and implementers develop and implement policy in regard to welfare of street families. AfCiC was a major participant in collection and analysis of data in the 2018 National Street Families Census. AfCiC is a member of the Thika Child Protection Committee which is a collaborative forum for sharing ideas to improve the welfare of street children in Thika Sub-county.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whose first case in Kenya was reported in mid-March 2020, has disrupted the normal order of things globally. At a national level, Kenya has suffered with the economy taking a beating, breadwinners losing jobs, companies shutting down, many Covid-19 related deaths being reported, increased cases of domestic and gender-based violence, increased cases of illnesses being reported, disruption of social life and schools shutting down resulting to children going to the streets in a bid to support their families eke a living.

This necessitates a change in policy in order to address the pandemic within the existing policy frameworks. The existing laws against human trafficking, petty crime and drug abuse should be fully implemented to address the high instances of drug abuse particularly in the Covid-19 period where street youth and children seek solace in hard drugs to soften the harsh reality of life. The existing community structures including the Area Advisory Committees, youth training centres, schools and non-formal education facilities, Nyumba Kumi, women and youth group, faith groups, community-based organizations should be mobilized and collaborate to respond to the needs of families at the community level before they move to urban centres. These community structures should be provided with incentives to encourage them to address immediate challenges facing street families before they escalate. Across different counties, an inter-county coordination should be established and interlinked with the national government, community structures, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to coordinate response against Covid-19 amongst the street families.

The health sector should also be directed and resourced adequately towards addressing the health needs of the street families. This includes but is not limited to: street-based teenage pregnancies; rehabilitation of drug-users; sexual violence and mental health. An inter-county tracing mechanism should be developed and implemented to trace Covid-19 spread amongst the street families. In order to facilitate this, the government should partner with social development partners to ensure that street youth and children acquire legal identification documents (national identity cards and birth certificates) so as to enable them access health institutions and facilitate accurate record-keeping that will help inform health policy.

The economic state of the country has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant effects. The street families have especially suffered since their normal sources of livelihood have shrunk considerably and many social institutions have reduced their budgetary allocations to social responsibility activities. The government (counties and national) should allocate budget lines towards social protection of the street families relative to the county population. The non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations should be incentivized and properly resourced to respond to the needs of street families since they are on the ground in direct contact with the street families.

As the medical personnel work towards finding a cure for Covid-19, we should stand firm shoulder-to-shoulder and implement measures to protect ourselves and the economy.

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”-Ann Frank.

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