Its festive season, most schools are closed for the Christmas holiday and parents have taken leave to spend time with their families. Similarly the children have taken a break from studying and are enjoying their holidays with family, friends and relatives.
For me, life has just begun, it’s a Sunday evening, I am walking in one of the peri urban areas of Nairobi and as usual, it’s a slow weekend and nothing much to prepare for the next day at work. I come across Kimani (Nickname) and his five friends- boys on the street; they could be aged between 10 and 16 years. They are most in upper primary and secondary school. They are healthy boys, well dressed and can understand English and the language of the town, Sheng. I also can hear them speak some of the mother tongue language- kikuyu.
Kimani seems the head of this team, older and with some experience in the society, he is the loudest and in his hand is a bottle of cheap liquor! Initially, my mind does not pay much attention to what they are up to, but after passing a few steps ahead of them , I change my mind and turn back to intervene in what they are about to do. Alcohol, drinking or possession of, is illegal to anyone under the age of 18 years in Kenya. The first question I ask Kimani & his friends is their national ID, which they don’t have. One of the boys runs way on my first question, but the rest are brave enough to wait what I am capable of doing! Interrogating them, I get to know that most of them have not been drinking like Kimani, who to me appears already drunk. Kimani had bought this liquor to show his friends that he actually drink and can even share with them if they are interested!
These boys looks very bright, they must be their parents source of joy, but what they are about to do will harm the rest of their lives. I am not sure how much they have done in the past, or are planning to do this festive season. Since I can’t stand the smell of this liquor, I took it from Kimani and poured it all on the ground; my next thought was to accompany them either to their parents or to the police station. My reasons for not doing this may not be convincing, but with experience, most parents are working all day to provide food for the family, pay house rent, or raise money for school fees and medical bills. Kimani and his friends also seem to be on their way to running some errands for their parents. I actually discover they are all from different villages, and that means I cannot walk all of them home at this time. The area police post would be my next option, but I have not had a very good experience with their execution of duties in the area. So I take it up to myself to advice the boys to take precaution on what they do, and avoid such kind of behaviour. So I am the community police and guardian on this day! After a few words discussion, I let go of the boys but they are definitely sure I will take the matter to the police!
Back in my house, I reflect on Kimani and his friends, and my role in helping them and others like them around the world. What is my role in protecting the child? This new generation that I believe will be the foundation of lasting societal change. This takes me back to the reason why I blog for UNICEF. While I am passionate about capacity building of youth and children to become better stewards who understand and take up responsibilities in the society, I must also consider those children and youth who have no access to proper upbringing. Those children, whom parents barely have the time to guide them, parents who are either too busy looking for the next meal, house rent or money for the education, or just reckless parents who have no better advice for their children.
I am also concerned about the society in which we live, which supposedly should be ensuring that there is an ideal environment to bring up children, but contrarily engaged in activities to ‘develop’. I may have not been the first one to meet the boys drinking this alcohol, but I am the only one who was concerned and helped them. The society in which we live in is more individualistic in their actions and can barely notice a child getting lost to abuse on the street!
My flashback is of those old days when every older person had the right to discipline you if found in the wrong. I still recall when my mother’s voice would scare all the boys in the neighbourhood, especially if they were searching for the birds’ nests to steal the eggs. Can we still have such a generation that will not only ensure that they bring up their children in the right morals, but also they ensure that the society also has the right morals for emulation by the young? Maybe Kimani and his friends were brought up well from their homes, but the society they live in is totally immoral and they are very weak to overcome this peer pressure. The society seems to be less concerned whether Kimani and his friends are disciplined, but are also forgetting that they this is the generation that they need to prepare for a better world tomorrow. The society is forgetting their role in ensuring not only Children rights, but also Basic Human rights principles!
Similarly and in comparison, even though we have the right to education, how many times do we ensure that we verify that our children are getting quality education, how many opportunities have been available to ensure that parents and the larger society can evaluate the nature of education and moral building our children get in schools. No wonder, in Kenya, we have many teenage girls falling prey of their teachers for sex in exchange of better grades in their exams. Of course this is a hoax that leaves the girls deprived of their rights to protection, education among others.
Boys like Kimani, even though know that substance abuse is illegal and against the Kenya law (it’s definitely taught in school), they are also quite aware that there is nothing much that the system can do to stop them from the vice. If the police came after them, their parents, or their friends, could probably be called upon to ‘toa kitu kidogo’ – bribe the officers to have the boys released. Kimani bought the liquor probably from a bar, where of course the retailer knows very well, that he is not supposed to sell to children under the age of 18 years, but of course, no one will ask him a record of where he sold his beer. At the end of the day, is how much profit have I made?
This is the story in a below average residential place in Nairobi; in an above average situation, the most probable thing to find over these holidays, would be to find the boys and girls hanging out late in the evenings with their friends in major restaurants and bars specifically known for drug trafficking in uptown Nairobi. Mostly, they are driving their parents’ expensive cars, and loaded with money to enjoy their holidays, thus can get as ‘high’ as they want.
I would go on and on about the evils that our children are exposed to, but my main worry would be, how would I engage you to help me understand and take part in protecting the child? How far are you willing to go to ensure that we are building a new generation of visionary leaders who understand their rights and have access to the morals required of them in the society? Are you portraying the morals that the children in your neighbourhood need to emulate to become better persons in future. What character are you instilling in the generation behind you? Do we have our morals that our children can emulate? Are we playing a role in protecting the rights of the children? Are we helping UNICEF in saving and Uniting for Children?