The hopes of Kenya’s children hanging in the balance
The hopes of hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children and their families hang in the balance as the two leaders in the disputed election, President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, finally begin to talk, face to face. The meeting, instigated through the mediation of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and other eminent African leaders, offers the strongest hope for peace since the country was engulfed in brutal inter-ethnic and political conflict. Children and women have borne the worst of the violence in Kenya and have the most gain from peace.
Overnight brutal attacks continued in several areas in the Rift Valley. Children and families in Molo and the Mau Summit fled for their lives while their homes were set ablaze. Up to 5,000 people who are fleeing this insecurity were expected to arrive in Nakuru Thursday. Inter-ethnic violence also erupted in some places that had so far stayed out of the conflict, including Nakuru which is now playing host to the largest population of displaced families in the country.
While the government continued to try to close camps for displaced families in Nairobi, notably the Jamhuri camp where 3,000 people were living until Monday, the lack of political agreement was reflected in the fear and apprehension many displaced families expressed about returning home. Many just do not know where “home” is any more.
UNICEF has dispatched more than USD1.2 million in emergency supplies and has had teams working on the ground in the major hot spots since the crisis began. While vital life-saving support in water, sanitation, hygiene, health and the prevention of malnutrition continues, the children’s agency is in particular need of funds to protect children from violence and abuse, and to assist those who have been worst affected.
Children, teens and women are always reluctant to talk about sexual attacks, yet the reality of such abuses is all too evident. Preliminary reports collected by an interagency group, led by UNFPA with support from UNICEF and UNIFEM, indicate the tragedy of girls and women in the informal camps who trade sex for biscuits, protection, transportation, or are raped while trying to get to a latrine during the night. The camps have little light and those who have fled from their homes with nothing have no flashlights to guide their way. The Gender Violence Recovery Center in Mombasa reported that cases of sexual violence had doubled since the elections and there have been an increase in sexual assaults by strangers and gang rapes; mostly of them girls under the age of 18, but also including some boys. Most do not report these attacks, and those who do rarely within the recommended 72-hours that allows optimal treatment to prevent HIV infection.
Getting children back to school is vital for their better protection as well as to help build a sense of normalcy in their lives. An estimated 1,700 displaced children have been admitted to schools in the Nakuru area alone. More than 500 children who are staying at the Nakuru showground, for example, are now attending the nearby Moi Primary School. Their classes are held in tents provided by UNICEF. UNICEF has also supplied teaching and learning materials and recreation kits – and desks and chairs are on the way. Classes also started yesterday with over 2,000 children enrolled at the Eldoret Showground camp and another 1,200 at the Burnt Forest camps. While some of the classes were held in tents, many took place in the open air, often with teachers who had themselves been displaced by the violence. The re-establishment of schools in the most difficult circumstances is a testament to the commitment of Kenyans to education. Many displaced parents told UNICEF that getting their children back to school is their top priority.
Working with partners UNICEF is also setting up safe play areas in Nakuru that will enable children from the camp to enjoy games and play, and for parents to be assured that their children are safe while they go to seek work or fuel or collect water and food, or for a place to live. Safe play areas supported by UNICEF will be created not only in the camps, but also in the heart of the worst affected communities where children who were not displaced, have nevertheless suffered from the violence and deprivations of the past weeks. The safe play zones provide children and their families with opportunities for counseling and reconciliation.
UNICEF support for the return to school will also include a strong peace and reconciliation component.
UNICEF is urgently seeking USD3 million for emergency child protection and education programmes that can protect and help children today and build a safer Kenya tomorrow.
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