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Troubled IDP children face traumatic future

NAIROBI, July 11 – The long term impact of the recent political violence in the country is already manifesting in children with authorities within the displacement camps reporting to have witnessed unprovoked, senseless violence among the children.

The impact of the hostilities will in the near future produce vengeful, violence-prone children who will be a danger to themselves and society, CRADLE, a children’s rights organisation says.

“The children would fight over anything – when they were queuing for food, for instance. And if they were not separated, they fought until there was bleeding. It was a manifestation of misplaced aggression,” Tonny Moses Odera, a child rights lawyer at CRADLE states.

Odera says there is need for the government, civil society and other partners to put in place mechanisms that address the long term effects of the violence on children.

“During the counselling sessions, when children were asked to draw a picture, most drew pictures of violence,” Odera says.

He warns that Kenya needs to prepare to deal with the Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) that children and adults are likely to manifest sooner or later.

According to statistics, children (under 18 years) constitute half the population in camps for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) countrywide.

Government reports indicated that about 350,000 adults and children were displaced during the post poll skirmishes.

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“The situation that befell Kenya was very unique – something this country has not gone through before. We visited camps in Nairobi and Rift valley and the signals were similar; that the children needed attention,” Odera adds.

Sexual violence against both children and adults was also rampant in the internally displaced person’s camps.

Referring to a case that was widely reported in the press where a vehicle filled with children was intercepted at night by police and the owners claimed they were taking the children to their parents, Odera said the camps also provided a fertile ground for child trafficking. 

“There is fear that other children may have successfully been sold before that interception, and that what the police stopped was merely the tip of an iceberg.”

He categorises children caught up in the crisis in two: Those separated from their parents or guardians when the violence erupted, and those from orphaned homes that were basically child-headed.

“During the violence, many children were separated from the people they knew and ended up killed, maimed or sheltered by total strangers,” he notes.

Odera says that in Nakuru there were reports of children sexually assaulted and others sold as ‘househelps,’ which may have been a cover for sexual slavery.

He singles out the Nakuru Showground where electricity was an issue and darkness enveloped the camp most of the nights.

“People walking around reported constantly stumbling on people in sexual act.”

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“For all you know that could have been a child being violated,” Odera remarks.

The child lawyer notes that children were also bartered for food, money and other comforts claiming that at the centre of this activity were volunteers who in many cases talked with people outside the camps and negotiated the prices of the children.

“We found out these things when we visited the camps. In some instances, parents forced their girls into early marriages although it must be pointed out that some of the culprits were not the biological parents of the children,” he states.

“This would be a good area to look into when the government sets in motion a process to investigate the violence against children and punish its perpetrators.”

He says that besides the expected manifestation of PTSS, the children’s education needs to be addressed since it has been compromised.

“For these children, there is a disconnection of reality. To start school afresh with nothing to tie your current classes with the past is a big psychological hurdle.”

Melissa Kirowo a Child Psychologist and Social Worker notes that while the ongoing resettlement process is a good thing, the victims should not be abandoned.

She suggests that the orphaned minors be taken to children’s homes across the country.

“They should be given a fresh start; there are more than 50,000 children’s homes in the country,” she says.

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Both Melissa and Odera agree that pursuing justice for the children will not be easy since some of the culprits were camp workers and others were law enforcement officers unless there is sufficient goodwill.

Other challenges they state include inadequate humanitarian resources.

“Poverty and destitution among the IDPs also makes it hard for many of them to attempt the pursuit of legal redress,” the two conclude.

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