By William Omondi
On the afternoon of October 11, 2022, business in Eldoret Town came to a standstill. This scenario followed clashes between families living on the streets of the town and the Uasin Gishu County Government Enforcement Officers (askaris). The families were protesting the perpetual brutality on their own by the officers. They were later on joined by hawkers who have been equally undergoing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment perpetrated by the askaris. Anti-riot police intervened and managed to quell the situation using teargas to disperse the protestors. Speaking to the media on the same day, Uasin Gishu County human rights activist, Mr. Kimutai Kiprop was categorical that the Uasin Gishu County Government must devise humane approaches to handling the families. He noted that several street children have in the past been brutalized and killed by the police and the askaris. The Uasin Gishu County Police Commander Ayub Gitonga denied Kiprop’s allegations. He said that his office had not received any reports on casualties resulting from brutality on the families by law enforcement officers in the town.
Despite the denial of the existence of brutality by law enforcement officers in Eldoret town, suffice it to say that the problem is snowballing by the day. The introduction of the devolved system of governance seems to have placed child protection interventions of the County and the National governments at variance. While the National Government is focused on reintegration, and family and community-based care for children, most County Governments in the country are not definite on how to handle the issue. For decades, street families in Eldoret Town have not known peace. The year 2006 saw children from the “California Barracks” suffer serious injuries caused by the police. A notorious police officer gauged out the eyes of Samuel Asacha. He was 15 years at the time of the incident. The same officer deliberately threw acid and disfigured the faces of two children aged 10 and 14 years from the “California Barracks.” In October 2015 the County Government of Uasin-Gishu rounded up 200 children living on the streets of Eldoret at night, beat them up and deported them to the counties of Bungoma and Busia. The children returned to Eldoret after a short period. In March 2016, six street children drowned in River Sossion in Eldoret town after being driven there and teargassed by police.
Consequently, Members of the Uasin Gishu County Assembly petitioned the then Director of Public Prosecution Mr. Keriako Tobiko to take action without success. In May of the same year, the same families paralyzed operations when they protested the killing of four street children. They dumped the coffin bearing the body of their colleague outside the office of then-Governor Jackson Mandago. They claimed he had drowned in the Sossion River as he tried to escape from the police. The police dispersed the group using teargas. Speaking during the year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child, two MCAS; Messrs. Francis Muya and Peter Chomba raised concerns about the government’s inaction against the perpetrators. In the same event, one of the children living on the streets of Eldoret; Vincent Onyango who was then 17 years demanded respect and humane treatment of the families. He noted that it was not their wish to live on the streets. Human rights activist, Mr. Benson Juma promised to take legal action against the County Government of Eldoret.
The cases of brutality are not unique to Uasin Gishu County. In June 2017, the County Government of Nairobi arrested 400 Children Living on the Streets and withheld them in police cells and rehabilitation centers in Nairobi against their will. The exercise was dubbed “cleaning the city and ridding it of its criminal elements.”
The above narratives demonstrate that Torture, Cruel, Inhuman Degrading Treatment and Punishment of children living on the streets are growing by the day. It is high time that state and non-state actors concerted their efforts to bring the perpetrators to book. The police service should work with the national and county governments to formulate policies and strategies that will ensure the safety of street families. Otherwise, with the advent of the devolved system, families remain an existential societal challenge that is mutating by the day.