Kenya, 2002



Linking Research to Advocacy and Action

























This report consists of two volumes and was compiled by:

Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK) for SNV/Kenya and German Technical Cooperation (GTZ)

This report provides reasonable estimates of the number of working children in Nairobi. It also provides the valuable perspectives of children themselves on their experiences and opinions on working and living on the street.  : For more information, please contact: SNV Kenya, PO Box 30776, Nairobi, Kenya Tel: +254-2-573656 Fax: +254-2-573650 e-mail:




1.0       Background..

1.1       Aims and Objectives of the Study..

1.2       Conceptualisation of the Research Population..

1.3       The Research Methodology and geographical coverage.

1.4       Time Frame.

1.5       Organisation of the Report.



2.0       Introduction..

2.1       The Research Framework..

2.2       The Data Sources and Instruments.

2.3       The Composition of the Research Teams.

2.4       The Research Process.

The Preparatory Phase: Ensuring Participation.

Stakeholders’ Meetings.

Drafting the Instruments.

Building Research Capacity.

Acquiring Knowledge and Skills in Research Methods.


Training in Qualitative Research.

Developing the Work Plan.

              Data Collection..

              Monitoring the Process.

The Feedback Sessions.

Field Monitoring.

              Data Analysis and Report Writing..



3.0       Introduction..

3.1       Emerging Issues.

Conceptual Issues.

Gender Sensitivity.

The Issue of Rights and Children’s Participation.

Methodological Issues.

Quality of Research on Street Children in Kenya.

3.1         Key Findings.

Establishing the Magnitude of the Problem..

The Age of the Children:

Ethnicity of the Children.

The Pull and Push factors.

Public Perceptions of Street Children.

Greater Vulnerability of Girls.

Activities Engaged in by Street Children.

Interventions and Organisations.

3.5         Summary..



4.0       Introduction..

4.1       Counting the Children..

The Age Profile of the Children.

The Gender Composition.


Language Use.


Parents Occupation.

4.2       Care, Subsistence and Home.

Children ‘of’ and ‘on’ the Street

Years Spent on the Streets.

Profile of Caretakers of the Young.

4.3       Reasons for Streetism...

4.4       Summary..



5.0         Introduction..

5.1       Leaving Home.

Children “On” the Streets.

5.2       Life on the Streets.

Work and Subsistence.

Non-work and Friendship Activities.

Time Use Patterns.

Denial of Their Rights.

5.3       Perceptions and Aspirations.

               Attitudes to Sex and Sexuality..

               Definition of Rights.

5.4       Intervening on behalf of the Children..

5.5       Summary..



6.0       Introduction..

6.1       The Study Highlights.

6.2        The Rights of the Child..

6.3       Lessons Learned..

Perspectives of the Research Consultants and Monitors.

The Researchers’ Perspectives.

6.4       Policy Implications.

6.5       Recommendations for Action..

Using Education as a Key Strategy.

Girl Friendly Facilities and Structures.

Insisting on Life Skills.

Promoting Transformative Pedagogy.

Gender Responsive Vocational Skills Training and Income Generating Activities.

Provision of Day Care for the Very Young.

Advocacy and Lobbying.


Monitoring and Evaluation.

Disseminating the Study Findings.

6.6       Recommendations for Further Research..

Selected Bibliography..



Annexes …………………………………………….105

Annex 1: Headcount Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 2: Headcount Questionnaire (English Version)

Annex 3: Under Five Headcount Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 4: Under Five Headcount Questionnaire (English Version)

Annex 5: Survey Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 6: Survey Questionnaire (English Version)

Annex 7: Organisations and Services Offered as Perceived by Respondents by Gender

Annex 8: Data collection and field monitoring teams

List of Tables

Table 1: Roles and Responsibilities of Research Team Members. 7

Table 2: Distribution of research sites per group. 11

Table 3: Number and Percentage of Children Living and Working on Nairobi Streets
      Disaggregated by Age 36

Table 4: Age of Children Living and Working on the Streets by Locale and Gender 38

Table 5: Children Living and Working on Streets of Nairobi by Ethnicity. 40

Table 6: Number and Percentage of Children in School 42

Table 7: Number and Percentage of Children 'Of' the Streets of Nairobi 45

Table 8: Age of person with child under the age of 5. 48

Table 9: Reasons for Coming to the Streets by Locale and Gender (Pull Factors) 50

Table 10: Number of Children who responded to being Orphans 53

Table 11: Reasons for Leaving Home. 56

Table 12: Reasons for coming to the streets. 57

Table 13: Children "On" the Streets by Gender and Locale. 60

Table 14: Areas of Concentration of Children in Research Locales. 63

Table 15: Children's Work-Related Activities. 63

Table 16: Recreational Activities of Girls and Boys. 67

Table 17: Activities done with friends disaggregated by gender of respondents. 68

Table 18: Place of Worship by Gender 68

Table 19: Level of Schooling by Gender 69

Table 20: Skills Training by Gender 71

Table 21: Problems Faced By Children on the Streets 72

Table 22: People Feared Most by Children Living and Working in the Streets. 75

Table 23: Public Perceptions and labelling of “Street” Children. 76

Table 24: Perceptions of Street Children on Ways of Contracting AIDS. 79

Table 25: Future Plans of the Children for the Next One-Year 81

Table 26: Beneficiaries by Gender and Age. 82

Table 27: Evaluating Interventions. 83

List of Figures

Figure 1: Distribution of Children by Research Locale. 35

Figure 2: Distribution of Children by Age and Locale. 37

Figure 3: Proportion of Children in the Under-Five Population by Gender 39

Figure 4: Percentage Distribution of Children by Ethnicity. 41

Figure 5: Percent Distribution of Children in School 42

Figure 6: Mother’s Occupation by Gender of Respondent 43

Figure 7: Father’s Occupation by Gender of Respondent 44

Figure 8: Numbers of Years Spent on the Street by % of respondents. 46

Figure 9: No. of Years Spent (in single years) on the Street by Gender 47

Figure 10: Reasons for Coming to the Streets. 49

Figure 11: The Gender Ratio of “Child-Beggars” counted in 12 locales in Nairobi 64

Figure 12: Children Scavenging on the Streets by Gender 64

Figure 13: Level of Schooling by gender in %.. 70


List of Textboxes

Box 1: Ice-Breaker 8

Box 2: Lessons Learnt from the Presentations. 14

Box 3: Problems identified and highlighted during feedback sessions. 15

Box 4: A Street Child by any other name. 22

Box 5: A Poem.. 59

Box 6: How we survive. 61

Box 7: Chokora Mwana wa Pipa. 62

Box 8: Earning a Living from the Streets. 65

Box 9: Sex syndicates. 66

Box 10: The Mungiki Factor 69

Box 11: Police Harassment 73

Box 12 Promoting Positive Self-Images. 77

Box 13: Takers and Beggars. 78

Box 14: In Case I Cough-----. 80

Box 15: Perception of Organisations. 83

Box 16: The Friendly Street People. 95



List of Annexes

Annex 1: Headcount Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 2: Headcount Questionnaire (English Version)

Annex 3: Under Five Headcount Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 4: Under Five Headcount Questionnaire

Annex 5: Survey Questionnaire (Kiswahili Version)

Annex 6: Survey Questionnaire (English Version)

Annex 7: Organisations and Services Offered as Perceived by Respondents by Gender

Annex 8: Data collection and field monitoring teams



AIDS               Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

AMREF           Africa Medical Research Foundation

CBs                 Community Based

CBOs              Community Based Organisations

CNSP              Children in need of special protection

CRC                Convention on the Rights of the Child

FGD                Focus Group Discussion

GOK               Government of Kenya

GTZ                 German Technical Cooperation

HIV                 Human Immune Virus

ID                    Identification Card

KCC                Kenya Cooperative Creameries

KSCP              Korogocho Street Children Programme

NCBDA          Nairobi Central Business District Association

NCNN                        National Children in Need Network

NCPD             National Council for Population and Development

NGO               Non-Governmental Organisation

NR                   No Response

PROSYR         Integrated Promotion of Street Children and Youth at Risk Project

PACR              Participatory Action Research with Children

SC – UK         Save the Children Alliance (United Kingdom)

SNV                The Netherlands Development Organisation

SPSS               Statistical Package for Social Sciences

STDs               Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STIs                 Sexually Transmitted Infections

UNCRC          United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNICEF          United Nations Children’s Fund

WERK             Women Educational Researchers of Kenya

WWL              Watoto wa Lwanga




SNV/Kenya Street Children Programme together with GTZ/GoK-Project ‘Integrated Promotion of Street Children and Youth at Risk’ acknowledge:


*           The tireless efforts made by Partner Organisations, namely Baraka Za Ibrahim, Boma Rescue Centre- Dandora, Creative Learning Centre - Pumwani, Comima Covenant Centre -  Kariobangi, Edelvale Home, GOAL Kenya, Imani Children’s Home, Korogocho Street Children Program (KSCP), Made in the Streets, Make a Better World, Mathare Hope Family Centre, Mukuru Promotion Centre, Pendekezo Letu, Rescue Dada, Sisters of Mercy DKA- office, Source of Solution Integrations Programme, Stars for Jesus/Kasarani, Slum Dolphin-Korogocho,   Save the Children Centre, Tunza Dada Center/Kasarani, UNDUGU Society of Kenya, UNGANA Friends of AMREF, Watoto Wa Lwanga (WWL) and Youth against Drugs who provided staff to assist in the data collection in the field.

*           Appreciate the efforts each one of the fifty-five social workers who spent four months tirelessly talking and questioning children – both day and night

*           Sammy Mwangi and Jocelyn Muraya for your tireless efforts in coordinating and handling the administration of the research process, your personal effort was admirable

*           WERK for taking on this challenging assignment on our behalf

*           WERK members and friends who helped with data entry and report writing

*        The community members and especially the children, parents and guardians who agreed to
participate in the headcount and the survey.



Executive Summary


The study sought to look at the complex lives of the children living and or working in the streets of 12 selected locations of Nairobi, namely: Kibera, Korogocho, Kasarani, Nairobi West/Wilson Airport/Madaraka, Pumwani/Ziwani/Kariakor/Majengo, City Centre, Buru Buru/Kariobangi South/KCC, Dandora/Maili Saba, Huruma/Kariobangi, Embakasi, Mukuru and Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani by adopting a broad-based, two pronged approach. It sought to do a headcount of these children profiling their lives in detail. Unlike previous studies that include children from the sprawling slums this study only dealt with those children either living or working on the streets. The study also attempted to go beyond the numbers to reconstuct their lives as they live it on a daily basis.


The broad objectives of the study were: to generate information useful for project planning, to map out the situation of street children in different areas of Nairobi, to distinguish the proportions of the different categories of street children in Nairobi, to give the children an opportunity to express their views regarding their lives on the street and to provide partner organisations with a situational analysis of the children that they work with.


Providing Accurate Numbers: One of the most disputed aspects of knowledge on children living and working on the streets of Nairobi is that related to their numbers. What is the magnitude of the problem, quantitatively speaking? Official estimates talk of about 250,000 countrywide and about 50,000 to 60,000 in Nairobi alone; none these estimates has been substantiated through physical enumeration of the children concerned.


The figure of 10,424 children counted and revealed by the present study is based on the headcount of children who live and work in the streets of the above-mentioned 12 selected locales within Nairobi District. To some, the number counted may appear to be rather conservative. While it is true that there could be some element of under-counting, the findings may be validated on the basis of the following:


§         One of the greatest strength of the study is derived from the fact that the figures proposed are neither “guesstimates” nor even estimates of street children. They are based on the physical count of children including those under 5 years of age depended on their caretakers giving consent to be counted and interviewed.

§         Though the research locales selected represent a large part of Nairobi District, other key areas such as Westlands, Dagoretti, Kawangware and Karen/Langata, believed to have large concentrations of the targeted children, were not covered. Thus the numbers presented refer to the population of the children in the study locales only and not to the whole of Nairobi.

§         The major focus of the study was on children as defined by the CRC, that is, people eighteen years and below. Only about 18.2 percent of the numbers counted were youth aged between 18-25 years. According to key informants as well as the researchers, it is believed that full inclusion of this older age category would have pushed the total count upwards, since more and more street families and gangs of young men can be found in the city.

Making Girls Visible: Girls generally tend to be invisible in most studies on street children. The recent study of street families in Nairobi’s central business district commissioned by the NCBDA in 2001 states that boys outnumber girls nine to one. However, according to the findings of this study that covered 12 locales in Nairobi District girls constitute on average about 25 percent of the population of children counted in Nairobi District. In Mukuru, Dandora/Maili Saba and Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani, the proportions are even higher (40%, 31% and 28% respectively).


Disaggregation of the findings by age reveals a narrower gender gap in the under-five age bracket. As many as 45 percent of the under-five children were found to be females.


The Age Profile: The research reveals the dominance of eleven to fifteen year olds on the streets of Nairobi, constituting over 50 percent of the valid 10,424 cases recorded. The children below the age of five constitute 7 percent of the total study sample.


The Ethnic Factor: The study exposed that the majority of the children, regardless of gender, identify themselves as Agikuyu. However, it also suggests that the population of Gikuyus among the street children may have been grossly exaggerated in other studies. While the Gikuyus constitute a significant proportion (46%) of all ethnic groups represented among the street children, the non-Gikuyus in the street children population, put together, are more in number. This notwithstanding, most of the children on the streets can speak the Kikuyu language. Other than Kikuyu, knowledge of Kiswahili was found to be almost universal next the ‘Sheng’ – their own street language.


Schooling: Overall, only 39.5 percent of the children counted and interviewed were attending school while an overwhelming number of children were not participating in any form of formal or non-formal education. Nevertheless a total of 48.5 percent of the girls and 36.5 percent of the boys claimed to be involved in some form of educational programme. Interestingly in Korogocho 56.2 percent of the boys claimed to be going to school. The highest number of children who claimed to be going to school fell within the age bracket of 11-15 years translating to 56.71 percent of the total number of respondents.


Parental Occupation and Streetism: Unemployment among parents of the respondents was quite high. Almost a quarter of the respondents claimed that their mothers did not work whereas less than a tenth said their fathers did not. Analyses of the parental occupations mentioned suggest that these are menial, poorly paying and often highly labour intensive jobs. The implications of this may be many including inability to meet basic family obligations leading to broken homes, high incidences of child neglect and abandonment, absentee parenthood and a tendency to encourage children to obtain employment by any means in order to supplement the family income. This view is supported by the findings that indicate that children are sent out to the streets to earn a living for themselves and even to support other members of the family.


Most employed mothers were said to be engaged in petty trading while the fathers were reportedly doing more skilled but also unskilled manual work. Some parents also engaged in household and domestic work, farming, illicit brewing, and begging for a living. Others did professional / managerial/technical or clerical work, proprietorship, guarding homes/premises, thievery/robbery or engaged in commercial sex work for a living. The percentage of girls with non-working parents was higher than that of boys (6.8% of the female responses and 17.1% of the male responses for the mother’s occupation; 2.8% of the female and 6.9% of the male responses). A number of children did not know anything about their parents’ occupations.


Children ‘Of’ and ‘On’ the Streets: Many of the children claimed that their parents were either deceased or had abandoned them. Abandonment by or death of fathers was found to be more common than abandonment by or death of mothers. The implication is that there were more single mothers than there were fathers. The death of either or both parent and abandonment in turn increases the likelihood of children turning or being turned out to the streets because of limited or no resources for their sustenance within the extended family setting. Children either orphaned or abandoned were found to be among those who had found permanent residence on the streets (approximately 14% of the total sample). Among the children ‘of’ the streets, over 65 percent were male. Most of the children who identified themselves fully with the streets were to be found in Mukuru and City Centre.


Time spent on the Streets: About 63 percent of the children had been on the streets either on a part time or full time basis for up to 5 years. Over 12 percent had been on the streets for between 6-10 years while another 13 percent could not remember when they had started to frequent the streets.


Caretakers of the Very Young: Two issues with regard to the characteristics of the caretakers of infants on the streets stand out. Firstly, the bulk of the caretakers are females, particularly mothers (56%) and sisters (12%); secondly, the age of the caretakers - who are either children (37%) themselves or are youth below the age of thirty (36%). An additional point of interest is the presence of young boys (7%) on the streets who take care of their younger siblings. Though fewer in numbers than their female counterparts, their role in the looking after the even younger children should not be ignored.


Reasons for Streetism: The study found that children were on the streets for a variety of reasons the major ones being, in order of frequency: to earn money, search for food and/or look for recreation---all described in the literature on street children as “pull” factors. These “pull” factors are symptomatic for children from economically poor families who suffer from lack of adequate attention and care at home as their parents spend most of their time and energy in securing the mere survival. It is also not surprising that “domestic conflicts” and “domestic violence” featured as one key “push” factor for streetism.


Significantly none of the children cited ‘sex’ as a reason for being on the streets. It is probable that of necessity rather than on their own volition, once on the streets children are introduced into sexual activity either for recreation or money or they are being forced into it and/or raped.


The Street Sub-Culture: Once on the streets others initiate the children into streetism in order for them to survive. Children’s rights are violated constantly as they are often harassed and exploited and they exploit others in turn. In absence of adult care and guidance they are forced to assume adult responsibilities and take care of themselves and sometimes their siblings and fellow children at a tender age. Out of necessity they have to look for work and they are easy to exploit through meagre or sometimes no pay. They are thrust into a bleak, harsh and depraved environment often fraught with constant and sustained danger in various forms such as:


·        Harassment

·        Violence amongst themselves and towards others

·        Drug taking and trafficking

·        Sexual exploitation accompanied by a high risk of contracting STIs and HIV/AIDS

·        Loneliness and fear

·        Physical and emotional abuse and neglect

·        Starvation

·        Exposure to the elements

·        Early, unplanned and uncontrolled pregnancy and parenthood

·        Poor hygienic and sanitation conditions


The Vicious Cycle of Negativity and Violence: During interviews with the members of the security forces and the public and the children themselves during the three children’s workshops held it emerged that children felt that they were unfairly blamed by members of the public for theft, robbery and other infractions of the law. Often they were beaten and harassed for real of imagined misdemeanours. The younger children, especially boys identified the police as among the persons feared most because they continually harassed them. Girls feared the older street boys the most because they organised gang rapes sometimes ‘to teach them a lesson” if they declined to have sex with someone, break up with someone or as mere punishment. The girls reported that they could be taken advantage of and being gang raped if they merely visited another base and they were known to be unmarried [without a boyfriend protecting them].


Younger children expressed fears of being stolen/abducted and often felt insecure when strangers approached them. The older girls cited incidents of colleagues who had been sexually molested and subjected to bestiality. These experiences heightened their sense of insecurity and vulnerability.


Recreation and Socialisation Activities: Life on the streets is not all about violence and abuse. The children develop strong friendships and spirit of mutual support and assistance. They play, sing, watch videos, tell each other stories and go to church together among other activities. Many of the recreational activities that girls and boys engage in are similar, but there are gender-based differences too. More boys than girls admitted to aggressive behaviour and the usage of a wider variety of drugs.


Defending Street Life: Some of the children even went to the extent of defending street life. They rationalised that the streets provide them with food, drinks and money. They enjoy the freedom to move around, not to be commanded around, to smoke, sniff glue, and for the boys, to have girl friends.


Attitudes to Sex and Sexuality: Though boys tend to see sex as recreation, for girls it often turns into a commercial activity or a way to secure a sense of belonging and/even protection through their ‘boy friends’. Both genders are aware that unprotected sex may lead to death and disease but few stated to be using protection/condoms. Their awareness of the causes of STIs and HIV/AIDS is tempered by a mix of facts and fiction.


Children’s perceptions of existing interventions: About half of children interviewed had some knowledge about various organisations that offer services to street children. However, this awareness did not necessarily translate into utilisation of and/or participation in the same. Education tops the list of benefits that the children said they derived from their involvement with these organisations, followed by food and clothes. Few had benefited from medical assistance or recreational activities such as football. Among the main reason for non-participation was the dislike of the mode and degree of discipline enforced in schools and centres including rigid rules and regulations, and the curtailment of their freedom of movement and association. Both boys and girls also noted that while some organisations should be appropriately rewarded for the good work they were doing, others should be scrutinised, as their activities did not benefit the street children.


The following policy recommendations were suggested; policy planners must adopt multi-faceted, multi-targeted and multi-tiered approaches if they have to make an impact on the lives of children on the streets. It is necessary to have clear policy guidelines regarding working with children on the streets to ensure that they are not exploited, their problems are not aggravated and their rights protected.


As for recommendations for action the following suggestions were given: child-friendliness of institutions working with street children whether formal or non-formal should be increased and so should the provision of psychosocial life skills and the application of transformative pedagogy that is learner-centred, interactive and participatory.


Other suggestions given are, provision of day care for the very young so as to enable their caretakers (often teenage mothers) to attend classes and engage in income generation activities; advocacy and lobbying at different levels for the implementation of the rights of children pushed and pulled to the streets by various factors; and capacity building targeting a variety of service providers including teachers, law enforcement agents and social workers on relevant knowledge and skills.




1.0    Background

The appearance of children who seemed to spend most of their time on the street in Nairobi city can be traced back to the late 1960’s. Since the 1980s, such children have become increasingly visible. Today, their presence in the streets of Nairobi is recognised to be a serious problem that requires urgent redress. Not only have their numbers grown over the years, their lifestyles and the display of overtly aggressive behaviour make them the subjects of suspicion and hostility by the public at large and the law enforcement agencies in particular. These notwithstanding there are an estimated 250 organisations in the city that claim to be intervening on behalf of children living and working on the streets. A quick assessment of these efforts indicates that most of these organisations are focused more on the symptoms rather than on prevention or eradication of the deeper structural causes of the problem.


Part of the problem of designing effective interventions is the lack of adequate and reliable information. Current projections of the population of children living and working on the streets of Nairobi and other urban and rural areas are at best “guesstimates”.  There has hardly been any initiative geared towards collecting and consolidating data on these children. The recent survey conducted by AMREF, though focusing on the Dagoretti Division of Nairobi only, is an exception[1].


Moreover, the little data that is available tends not to be disaggregated, tending to categorise all poor urban children as “street children”. But clustering all poor urban children under the generic descriptor of “street children” distorts reality. In addition, such clustering cloaks the diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, religion and even sub-cultures that characterise children living and working on the streets. Consequently, the programme designer is unable to make any distinctions with regard to the peculiar characteristics and specific needs of the various groups of children thus running the danger of developing inappropriate interventions.


It is in view of the above weaknesses in available information on “street children” that SNV/Kenya Street Children Programme and GTZ/Integrated Promotion of Street Children and Youth at Risk Project (PROSYR) in partnership with various other interested organisations decided to undertake a study of those groups of urban children commonly referred to as “street children”.  The Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK), a Nairobi-based professional association dedicated to gender equity and equality through linking research to action and advocacy, was contracted to co-ordinate the research process and provide technical in-put into the study.

1.1    Aims and Objectives of the Study

Aims and objectives of the study, as formulated by the contracting agencies, were to:


a)      Generate information-quantitative and qualitative-useful for project planning by service providers of street children in Nairobi

b)      Map out the situation of street children in the different areas of Nairobi

c)      Distinguish the proportions of the different categories of street children in Nairobi

d)      Give the children an opportunity to express their views regarding their lives on the street

e)      Provide partner organisations with a situational analysis of the children that they work with

f)        Give an indication of the exact numbers of street children to form the basis for well-informed planning at policy level

g)      Build the research capacity of members of organisations providing services to street children and document this process.

1.2    Conceptualisation of the Research Population

For the purpose of the study, the research population was perceived to be children living and working on the streets. This definition was deliberately adopted to include all groups of children who, whether on a full-time or part-time basis, regard the streets of Nairobi, at a minimum, as the place where they get their subsistence. Some of these children, it was recognised from the outset, would be school-goers and have homes and families that they go back to on a daily basis. Others have no homes to go back to and therefore would be residing full time on the streets.


From the onset, key stakeholders involved in the research process agreed that children living and working on the streets are usually to be found in the following areas[2]:


·             Garbage dumps

·             Next to the Nairobi river

·             Market areas

·             Abandoned vehicles and houses

·             Playgrounds and open fields

·             Shopping centres, hotels and bars

·             Mosques, especially on Fridays where they might converge to get alms from the Muslim devotees after prayers

·             Scrap paper and metal collection and selling points

·             Remand homes, cells and courts

·             Slaughter houses

·             Drop-in centres

·             Fuel stations

·             Car parks

·             Bus stops

·             Churches

·             Cinema/video halls

·             Public toilets

·             Street junctions and traffic lights

·             Chuoms[3] and bases[4]


In the current study, most of the above locations were visited within the various sites to count the children. However, there were some notable exceptions. For example, remand homes, cells and courts were considered to be restricted areas and as such out of reach to the researchers.


The definition of “children” agreed upon in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is those people below the age of eighteen. This definition was used in the study. However, it was recognised that subjective definitions of children may exist in the streets, and who we perceive to be children may not be so considered by the research population itself. Subjective definitions of children would most likely be influenced by African traditions like circumcision for boys, and marriage and motherhood for girls.


It was also recognised that sometimes it would not be possible to adhere to the upper age limit of eighteen years very strictly. In the first place, the children may not themselves be sure about their age. In the second place, researchers may interview some who appear to be under eighteen years only to find out later that the respondent is actually older than estimated. In situations of malnutrition, the likelihood of people appearing younger than their biological age is quite real. At the end of the day, the age of the children was bound to be subjective based on what they believed their age was since we had no objective way of verifying it.


Eventually, it was agreed that theoretically, the primary focus of the study would be on children as defined by the CRC, that is, individuals between the ages of 0-18[5] as perceived by the research subjects themselves or in the case of the under-five age group, as estimated by their caretakers. Young people (19-25) would constitute a secondary target of the research.


Another term that posed a problem in defining was that of “street”. In the present context street was taken to refer to not only the main thoroughfares and side roads within the research locales, but also the alleyways whether tarmacked or otherwise.


These were negotiated definitions. As recounted in chapter two, the key terms were discussed and the definitional parameters agreed upon between the research co-ordinating team represented by the WERK members and members of organisations working with street children nominated to be part of the field team.


A term that provokes debate is  “street children”. The present study recognises the derision with which many people regard children so classified. Given this negative connotation it is used with caution, shorn of any negative qualities that the concept tends to conjure in the minds of the most people.

1.3    The Research Methodology and geographical coverage

With Nairobi as the principal study locale, twelve sites were purposively selected for the quantitative component, namely: Kibera, Korogocho, Kasarani, Nairobi West/Wilson Airport/Madaraka, Pumwani/Ziwani/Kariakor/Majengo, City Centre, Buru Buru/Kariobangi South/KCC, Dandora/Maili Saba, Huruma/Kariobangi, Embakasi, Mukuru and Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani and three of these for the qualitative part, namely: City Centre, Korogocho and Mukuru. The data collection exercise was conducted mainly by staff seconded to the research project by organisations involved with the protection and care of children living or working on the streets. The research design was developed by WERK with participation of the partner organisations and in-put from the initiating agencies (SNV and GTZ). Details of the research methodology and process are captured in Chapter Two.

1.4    Time Frame

The study was conducted in two phases. Phase I which consisted of the quantitative component and included the headcount of children living and working on the streets as well as the administration of the survey questionnaire, took place between September 2001 and February 2002. The second phase focusing on the qualitative research overlapped with the end of the first phase, the process beginning in the third week of January and continuing into the second week of February 2002. This was due to an extension of the quantitative fieldwork. (See section on Lessons Learnt in Chapter 6.3)

1.5    Organisation of the Report

The research is presented in two volumes: Volume one contains the analytical report while volume two presents the quantitative data in form of tables. This is the first of the two volumes.


Volume one is divided into six substantive chapters. Chapter One provides the background to the study; Chapter two describes the process of instrument development, training for the fieldwork, data collection and analysis; and Chapter Three reviews literature pertinent to the research. The research findings are presented in Chapters Four and Five with the former summarising the findings of the Head Count questionnaire, and the latter integrating the data derived from the Survey Questionnaire and obtained through qualitative methods. Finally, in the third part of the volume, comprising Chapter Six, the conclusions, including the lessons learnt (incorporating the experiences of the field researchers) are drawn and recommendations made.


In addition to the main body of the report is a comprehensive bibliography of the literature reviewed. The annexes present copies of the various research instruments that were used during the data collection process.




2.0            Introduction

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the study was guided by the twin principles of inclusiveness and participation. This was reflected in the entire process: in the composition of the research teams, developing the design, the collection of data and finally analysis and report writing. Both quantitative and qualitative components of the study were conducted within the qualitative research paradigm. This chapter recapitulates the research process, describing how the study was conceptualised, definitions negotiated, instruments developed and data collected among other issues.

2.1    The Research Framework

There are fundamental differences between quantitative and qualitative research paradigms that go beyond just numbers or the absence of them. The two types of research are based on contrasting assumptions about the nature of the social world and social reality. The quantitative research paradigm, on the one hand, assumes that the social world and social reality may be studied in the same way as the natural world of elements, trees and animals. The qualitative research paradigm, on the other hand, perceives social reality, actively constructed (and deconstructed) by human beings, to be strikingly different and therefore requiring very different methods of study. It also recognises that social reality is not monolithic and homogenous; instead, one may talk of multiple realities operating within the same broad socio-cultural and economic contexts.


Traditionally, the quantitative research paradigm had dominated the social sciences claiming to be more “objective” and hence “scientific”. There had been a tendency to dismiss research conducted within the qualitative paradigm as being anecdotal and inferior.  In recent years, these views have convincingly been challenged. It is increasingly being realised that to adequately understand the social world of human beings, and develop relevant interventions, qualitative research is necessary and appropriate. This is particularly true in the case of the study of minority groups, such as the subjects of the present assessment, whose voices tend to remain inaudible and spirit shackled within the more conventional research traditions.


The adoption of a qualitative research framework in the present study may thus be justified on several grounds:

1.                  It allows for a flexible research design;

2.                  It allows visibility of the dispossessed and deprived and their voices to be heard;

3.                  It allows the collection of sociologically significant data (statistical data obtained within a quantitative research paradigm may not be sociologically significant); and

4.                  It allows capturing multiple realities rather than a monolithic view of the social world

It may be argued that the present research used two quantitative instruments to obtain the bulk of the data. While this is true, it must be pointed out that the instruments were developed and administered within the qualitative paradigm. In addition, more overtly qualitative methods including workshopping, key informant interviewing, games and focus group discussions were also used for the collection of data. The qualitative framework also guided the selection of the sample and data analysis processes.


The research used multiple methods of data collection and various sources of data, both primary and secondary. Among the methods used were:


·        Document analysis using a document review guide. The review included the review of published and unpublished literature (See Chapter Three)

·        Head count using a brief researcher administered questionnaire for the over-five children. A total of 9,412 interviewer-assisted questionnaires were administered.

·        Another questionnaire, even shorter than the one for the Headcount, to identify those less than five years of age in all the twelve research locales were administered to any street person found with a child below the age of five. A total of 727 questionnaires were completed in this category.

·        Survey using a semi-structured questionnaire administered to children who volunteered to give detailed information about themselves in all the twelve research sites. A total of 606 survey questionnaires were completed, assisted by the interviewers.

·        Children’s workshops conducted in three selected sites (i.e. City Centre, Korogocho and Mukuru) on the 13th, 14th and 16th February respectively. Majority of the workshop participants were boys ranging in age between the ages of 10-24. (More details provided in Chapter Five).

·        Interviews using interview guides to obtain additional information from children as well as adults working in relevant organisations.

·        Essays written by some of the researchers reflecting on their fieldwork experiences.


2.3                       The Composition of the Research Teams

The combination of a multi-site study with a participatory process resulted in a research team that was both broad-based and large. The initiating agencies, SNV and GTZ, WERK members and the staff of partner organisations and volunteers were all part of the team albeit in different capacities. Specifically, SNV-Kenyan Street Children Programme provided the overall co-ordination and technical insight. Technical insight was also provided by GTZ that also ensured logistical support. The roles and responsibilities of the various key actors comprising the team are summarised in Table 1.



Table 1: Roles and Responsibilities of Research Team Members


The Team Members

Roles and Responsibilities


·         Conceptualising the research

·         Commissioning and funding of research

·         Management of process especially in terms of providing logistical support

·         Negotiating broad technical guidelines for implementation of research

·         Participating in monitoring of process

Partner Organisations

·         Providing staff and volunteers to conduct the field work

·         Participating in the capacity-building workshops

·         Collecting the data (quantitative and qualitative)

·         Participating in the feedback sessions

·         Submitting self-reflections on research experiences (optional)


·         Developing research framework and design

·         Developing draft instruments and guiding process for finalisation of the same

·         Capacity-building field researchers in data collections methods and ethics

·         Monitoring the data-collection process

·         Providing personnel for data collection as and when necessary

·         Cleaning, coding, entering and analysing the data

·         Writing the study report



2.4    The Research Process

The Preparatory Phase: Ensuring Participation

The preparatory phase of the project was participatory and comprised several interrelated and sometimes overlapping components. Each of the components is described in some detail in the following pages.

Stakeholders’ Meetings

An initial meeting with various stakeholders initiated by SNV was held on 28th August 2001. The meeting was attended by thirty-four individuals, most of whom were heads of various organisations drawn from the eight administrative divisions of Nairobi working with children living and working on the streets. At this meeting, SNV invited interested organisations to work together in establishing the magnitude of the problem confronting them. Following discussions that took place, it was agreed that:

·        Since many of the partner organisations were already involved in street work in their localities, it would make sense for them to be involved in the process of data collection.

·        This involvement would gain legitimacy and also ensure ownership of the research process. 

·        The participating organisations would essentially be the primary consumers of the data emanating from the study

·        The staff involved in the study would receive training in research skills and be awarded certificates at the end of the exercise.


The meeting established the interest and the theoretical commitment at least of the partner organisations in participating in the research.


A second stakeholders’ meeting was held in September 2001. It was at this meeting that WERK was brought on board. About seventy social workers nominated by various Nairobi-based organisations working with street children to participate in the Head Count attended the meeting. It was chaired by SNV while two senior WERK researchers acted as facilitators.


The purpose of the meeting was:


(a)    to introduce WERK, the research co-ordinators, to SNV/GTZ partner organisations involved with street work;

(b)   to agree together on the broad participatory research framework and the roles and responsibilities of the various partners;

(c)    to establish the knowledge level that partners had on research methods including exposure to the different data collection techniques;

(d)   to provide space for brainstorming and agreeing on the criteria for the recruitment of researchers from partner organisations; and

(e)    to map out the geographical areas that partner organisations present would prefer to operate in relation to the proposed study.


Box 1: Ice-Breaker

a) Sketch a map to your house

b) Pair up with the person seated next to you. If that person
     happens to be your friend, or colleague and knows your house,
     then pair up with somebody who does not know where you stay

c) Explain the directions (of your places of residence) to each


This exercise helped to highlight the importance of rapport building and utilising ones observational skills (including skills of listening and remembering) in the process of research.

Source: Second Stakeholder Meeting


Participatory facilitation was used to achieve the above objectives. After general introductions, participants were assigned an activity (see Box 1). The purpose of the activity was manifold. First, it was designed to break the ice between the various participants, many of who were meeting for the first time. Second, it was meant to highlight the importance of rapport building, having good observation skills and following instructions, all ingredients of good researching. The activity thus served as an introduction to conducting field research, and provided the focal point for further discussions on the research techniques and issues.


This meeting was thus crucial from the perspective of the study on children living and working on the streets. It allowed the research co-ordinators to assess the level of exposure of those present to various research methods. In this respect, it was found that the vast majority of the participants had little or no knowledge of what research entails. A very few had been involved as assistants in quantitative surveys and/or taking notes in focus group discussions (FGDs). The information gained from the meeting consequently helped to design the training for the fieldwork based on an assessment of their needs.


During this meeting, consensus was negotiated on the qualities expected in those aspiring to join the research teams. These qualities included:


·        Ability to speak one or more languages used by the research subjects

·        Good interpersonal skills

·        Willingness to learn and to work long hours

·        Ability to capture views/opinions without imposing one’s own perspectives

·        Ability to be team players


It was agreed that the every effort would be made to achieve gender and age balances in the composition of the research teams.


The criteria for selecting the sites for research were also identified during this meeting. Already, during the first stakeholders meeting, fourteen potential sites had been identified. Partner organisations interested in participating in the field-work phase of the study were required to choose from among these the site that


·        They felt most comfortable working in

·        Was closest to one’s place of residence and/or operations

·        They were already working in.


This process helped to re-cluster and reduce the number of proposed research sites from fourteen to twelve. There were two main reasons that emerged for the exclusion of some of the sites identified during the first stakeholders meeting from the study, viz.


1.      Karen, Langata, Mwiki and Ruai were excluded because partner organisations operating in those areas could not be identified.

2.      Dagoretti, Riruta and Kawangware were not included to avoid duplication because AMREF had just concluded a study on vulnerable children, including street children.


It also helped the organisers to allocate volunteers from Ungana (Young friends of AMREF) to the sites that had very few researchers.


Drafting the Instruments

The next step in the process was drafting the instruments. For this WERK nominated an internal technical committee (See Annex for list of members) to construct the initial drafts of the Headcount and Survey questionnaires. These drafts, constructed in English, were presented for critical discussion at the Orientation Workshops (see section below), together with a Kiswahili version. WERK members had initially done the translation.


The Research Team went through the two questionnaires, item by item reviewing them for relevance, language and length. This was done in three stages: (a) in break-out groups; (b) in the two parallel workshop groups; and (c) finally in a joint plenary where they debated the aspects they considered to be contentious. It was agreed that the Kiswahili version, revised according to the recommendations of the participants, would be administered to the research subjects, keeping in mind that the interviewers would possibly have to “translate” the instruments into the specific dialect used by the children in particular research sites.


It was also recommended that the Research Consultants should develop a third instrument to be administered to the care-takers of children under five. This instrument, together with the other two, was piloted the week of 8-12 October 2001. Based on the experiences of the researchers in using them, the instruments were further modified. The English versions of the final questionnaires are attached in Annex 7.

Building Research Capacity

Two orientation workshops for the researchers were held: first, before the commence-ment of the quantitative data collection and the second, prior to the qualitative component. Three and two days were spent on the quantitative and qualitative workshops respectively. Facilitated by the consultants, these workshops served to build the capacity of the research team.


An additional one-day training was provided to researchers who were recruited into the team at a later date to augment the numerical strength of the researchers. The new team members were trained only on the administration of the Head Count and Under-Five questionnaires.


Participants at the first workshop, numbering some fifty participants were divided into two groups based on the sites they had said they would work in. (See Table 2) In Group A, there were twenty-six participants while in Group B there were twenty-four.  Group A and B had parallel sessions based on a common agenda developed by WERK prior to the workshop. Each group was facilitated by two senior researchers from WERK assisted by others in capacity-building positions (see names of Project Team Members).









Table 2: Distribution of research sites per group




Research Sites

No of Researchers


Research Sites

No of Researchers






Nairobi West-Wilson-Madaraka





City Centre








Dandora-Maili Saba







KCC-BuruBuru-Kariobangi South



Huruma-Kariobangi North









The workshop objectives, as set by the Research Consultants, were to


·        develop common understanding of the purpose of the proposed study on children living and working in the streets;

·        familiarise the research team members with research methods appropriate to such a study;

·        give them practice with the use of the Head Count and Survey Questionnaires;

·        solicit the input of the research teams in the finalisation of the quantitative instruments;

·        map the concentrations of children living and working on the streets by site as perceived by the organisations working with street children in the site (locale); and

·        draw the site boundaries.


These above objectives were negotiated and reformulated together with the workshop participants. To attain the above objectives, the workshop used a dominantly participatory methodology. The specific facilitation methods used included:


·        Games and exercises

·        Buzz groups discussions

·        Break-out group discussions

·        Simulations

·        Oral presentations/lectures

·        Mapping


The introductory part of the workshop comprised an icebreaking exercise, which was meant to show how well one responds to questions. A word was written out on VIPP cards. These cards were then cut into half. The participants were then asked to find the matching half of the word, introduce themselves to the other partner, discuss the word, and come up with an agreed meaning of the word. The partners were also required to write one expectation and one fear that each one of them had of the workshop, recording them on VIPP cards, and posting the cards on the wall.


During the plenary, it was noted that some of the expectations and fears would actually be addressed during the workshop such as gaining an understanding of research methods, while others would be addressed immediately after the end of the workshop. Acquiring skills in doing research, for example, was initiated during the workshop period through simulated interviews and later, during the data collection process. Other expectations and fears were related to problems that they anticipated might crop up during the research process and strategies for dealing with these. The issue of safety and security of the field researchers was a recurring concern.


Acquiring Knowledge and Skills in Research Methods

As noted previously, the major focus of the first capacity-building workshop was to familiarise the Research Team members with knowledge and skills in research methods. The workshop facilitators presented a quick overview of social research. The overview included the following components:


·        Definitions and explanations of quantitative and qualitative research paradigms

·        Data collection techniques associated with each of the paradigms

·        Different sampling types and methods

·        Various sources of data

·        Data analysis


A considerable amount of time was spent on giving the participants skills in building rapport with research subjects as an essential part of the data collection process in general and in conducting effective interviews in particular. The Research Team members were at the same time exposed to ethical issues relating to fieldwork and reporting such as obtaining informed consent of the research subjects, maintaining confidentiality and resolving personal and professional conflicts. As already mentioned, the participants got opportunity to improve their interviewing skills by using the draft Head Count Questionnaire.


One of the anticipated problems was that of doing the headcount accurately in the absence of adequate information about their places of residence and work. Therefore, it was felt that one of the first steps would be to map the whereabouts of the children in each of the selected study sites. In order to do this, each of the two parallel workshop participants were divided into groups based on what they had identified as their work site. They were then asked to draw the boundaries of the sites and indicate within these boundaries the following:


·        The sleeping/living locations of the children (e.g. chuoms[6])

·        The work/subsistence locations (including dump sites)

·        The recreational locations

·        Major landmarks characterising the sites including the main roads and buildings (churches, schools, hospitals etc).


Each group drew the preliminary maps on large sheets of brown paper (pasted together as required) using coloured markers. During the joint plenary session, the maps were presented and discussed for accuracy, overlap and gaps. In case of overlap, site boundaries were negotiated between the concerned groups and consensus achieved. It should be pointed out that the site boundaries do not necessarily coincide with official (Kenyan) administrative boundaries.


Where gaps in geographical coverage were identified, two alternatives were proposed:


1.      First, it was agreed that some of the gaps would be addressed by those within or near whose site boundaries they were appearing. For example, with the Pumwani and City Centre teams, it was agreed that the latter would incorporate a "base"[7] that had been left out.

2.      Second, for specific sites, it was agreed that the gaps would remain as gaps for the time being given constraints in time and resources. This was especially so for the Embakasi team whose coverage included areas such as Mwiki and Ruai but which could not be visited due to the aforementioned constraints.


Once consensus on the boundaries was achieved, the maps were dated and handed over to SNV for further processing after the workshop. A professional cartographer was contracted to reduce the maps to A3 size to make them friendly for use by the field researchers. They were then distributed to the field teams to guide the fieldwork process.


It is important to note that the maps drawn during the workshop were considered to be very tentative drafts. The accuracy of the details were expected to be validated during the field work by the researchers, and the corrections made so that by the end of the research period, the maps would reflect the reality on the ground at the time the research was conducted. For example, in the case of Embakasi, the locations noted on the map were found to be non-existent after piloting. In other cases, it was found that children had moved on to other places because dumping sites had been moved. [See Supplementary Annexes]


Training in Qualitative Research

A further two-day training in qualitative research methods was conducted on 21st and 22nd January 2002. The workshop had sixteen participants, drawn from the three sites selected for the qualitative phase of the study. These sites were: City Centre, Korogocho and Mukuru. Initially, Kibera had been identified as a possible site for the qualitative phase. However, it had to be dropped following security concerns resulting from the violence that rocked the area during part of October and most of November 2001.


During the workshop, the facilitators took the participants through the more common qualitative research techniques (Focus Group Discussions, In-depth interviews and observations) as well as creative methodologies (e.g. role plays, puppetry, poetry, song/music). The importance of detailed note-taking, transcription and recording was emphasised.


Participants were given hands-on experience in developing and using creative qualitative techniques of research. They were divided into the following thematic areas derived from assessment of the issues arising from the quantitative research phase:


·        Schooling

·        Health challenges

·        Sexuality and transition issues and relationships

·        Conflict with the law

·        Self-perception vis-à-vis community perceptions


Box 2: Lessons Learnt from the Presentations

·                Researchers should not pre-empt information

·                They need to probe further for depth

·                They need to use language that the children are familiar with. Rapport would be strengthened if the interviewers used a bit of sheng[8]

·               The researchers would need to strengthen their interviewing techniques to ensure that they are able to guide the flow of the discussions in the desired direction without biasing the responses.

Source: Qualitative Orientation Workshop

Each group was assigned an issue that they were required to pursue using one of the creative techniques discussed earlier in the workshop. The presentation by each group was critiqued by the others and used as further learning points for improving their techniques of data collection using the selected techniques.

Developing the Work Plan

A tentative workplan was developed during the first training workshop to cover the quantitative phase of the study. This workplan was subsequently revised and the time period extended to the first two months of 2002. The qualitative phase of the research was similarly scheduled for February 2002. 

Data Collection

The collection of the data commenced after the pilot period though it was agreed that the information obtained during the pilot phase (especially the Headcount component) would constitute part of the findings. The actual period of data collection varied from site to site, depending on the time available to the researchers as well as the situation on the ground. In most cases, the teams worked three days a week with other competing duties taking up the remaining days of the week. Time staggering was also done to ensure maximum access to the targeted children. For example, the City Centre team worked during the night to include the children involved in night street work. There were six sessions of night fieldwork between 7:00-11:00 p.m. over the data collection period.


With the exception of four sites (City Centre, Kibera, Huruma/Kariobangi North and Pumwani) all the other sites concluded the collection of quantitative data by the third week of December. By the time of conclusion of the exercise in December, researchers at most of the sites had estimated that they had covered more than 90 percent of the targeted children in their areas. Among the external factors that disrupted the field work were:


·        The bloody rent dispute clashes in Kibera already referred to in an earlier section.

·        The clashes between the revivalist Mungiki[9] sect and matatu[10] touts for the control of the bus terminals in Dandora. In Racecourse and Kamukunji areas, children and youth could not be counted as a result.

Monitoring the Process

Two mechanisms were put in place to monitor the fieldwork process, i.e. (a) feedback sessions and (b) field monitoring.

The Feedback Sessions

Box 3: Problems identified and highlighted during feedback sessions

¨       Hostility especially from the older children. A way of countering this problem was to interview the older children as an entry point to get to the target group.

¨       Lack of patience from the children (especially while interviewing them for the survey questionnaire) due to glue sniffing and other competing priorities.

¨       Children asking for money/food in exchange for being interviewed.

¨       Harassment especially of the female researchers by the male street children. This was countered by ensuring that the teams were gender balanced.

¨       Research vis-à-vis social work issues. At times, the children were too ill to be interviewed or the researcher was aware that the information being provided by a particular child was not true. Since most of the researchers also doubled up as social workers, it was difficult at times to draw the line between research and social work.

¨       Walking long distances in search of the children.

¨       The high rate of mobility of street children from one geographical area to another.

¨       The children wanted to know the immediate benefit of the research for them. This had implications in terms of whether the children would agree to be interviewed or not

¨       Poor weather conditions.

Source: Feedback Sessions 2001


The initial project design incorporated at least three feedback sessions scheduled to intersperse the duration of the data collection period. The purpose of these sessions were to take stock of progress made in data collection per site, share experiences, identify problems encountered, develop possible strategies to deal with the problems (as far as possible) and finally to review the research schedule to be consistent with the reality on the ground. While the first feedback focused on the output of researcher per site, in subsequent sessions, in addition to the total output per site, each researcher was required to submit returns on their individual achievement.


The first feedback session took place two weeks after the piloting of the instruments while the last was held on 19th December 2001. Box 3 summarises some of the problems that were identified during the feedback sessions.


It should be pointed out that the researchers had already identified a number of these problems during the orientation workshops as factors that might affect the conduct of data collection.

Field Monitoring

The need to monitor the researchers in the field in addition to the Feedback Sessions evolved as the research progressed. Field monitoring began in late November and continued into early December 2001. The purpose of the field monitoring was two-fold:


1.    To ascertain reliability and timeliness of the data collection process: On the positive side, the monitoring exercise confirmed the skills of researchers in specific sites in establishing rapport with the children. The researchers demonstrated patience and empathy, thereby persuading the child respondents to answer the questions without fear or intimidation. In cases were entry into bases were difficult, the researchers established rapport with the base leaders who facilitated their access. During the night fieldwork, some children and youth volunteered to guide the researchers to the “chuoms”.


The monitors also observed that the researchers had devised strategies for recording the information even under risky conditions. Researchers often worked in pairs enabling one partner to keep watch over their personal items as the other concentrated on interviewing the respondent This was to prevent older boys from stealing from them.


Another strategy was to record the responses given by the children on ordinary paper and later transfer them to the questionnaire. This is because the questionnaire tended to attract unwelcome attention at times.


Among the negative aspects noted, especially in terms of administering the questionnaires efficiently, was what appeared to be poor motivation on the part of a few of the researchers. Apparently, these researchers appeared to be unclear as to why they had been assigned the task of research by their organisations/employers. This resulted in procrastination and tardiness and slowed down the process of data collection.


2.    To assist researchers with troubleshooting problems that they might encounter in the field. One problem encountered by the researchers was that of accuracy of the mapping exercise. In Embakasi for instance, the researchers had to walk very long distances in search of the children. The map that had been drawn by the original Embakasi team was not very accurate, and in fact, did not reflect the reality on the ground. Furthermore, they would sometimes meet children from the neighbouring Mukuru slums so there was the fear of double counting. To ensure that double counting did not take place, the monitor emphasised the importance of first verifying from the children themselves whether any body else (read researcher) had interviewed them over the last few weeks.


There was also the issue of not finding the children in the bases at the time they were visited. In another instance, children at the Dandora dumping site were not interviewed as the time that the researchers went there coincided with the working hours of the children. Given the limited time available to the researchers, it was not possible to revisit the sites to include these children in the sample.

Data Analysis and Report Writing

Data analysis involved development of the codebooks for the Head Count and Survey Questionnaires, cleaning of the data, coding of the filled instruments, data entry and finally analysis using SPSS Version nine. Given the overall qualitative thrust of the research, no attempt was made to do sophisticated statistical inferences from the quantitative data; instead, simple percentages were computed and presented in tabular and graphic forms. Some of the tables done on SPSS were later converted to Microsoft Word and/or Excel.


The qualitative data, recorded on audio-tapes had to be transcribed first in the language of the discussions and then transcribed and translated from Sheng and Kiswahili into English, a rather tedious and difficult activity given that Sheng used by the children sometimes varied from one site to another. The qualitative data were analysed manually using a thematic approach.


The data analysis took much longer time than originally anticipated. This was due to three main reasons:


·        The volume of data that was generated was massive (over 10,000 questionnaires were filled for the Head Count alone).

·        The semi-structured nature of the instrument meant that the coding process was longer as the responses to specific questions were varied and many therefore it required collapsing into manageable categories before the codes could be finalised for entry.

·        The extension of the fieldwork period meant that neither could the code book be finalised as and when expected nor data entry begun and completed as planned.


Given the magnitude of the task and the relatively short time in which to do the data analysis meant that the original research team had to be expanded. This expansion was effected at the level of data entry and analysis as well as report writing. This research was truly the result of a cooperative venture and a victory for the spirit of teamwork.




3.0    Introduction

All human beings have the right to a decent life free from all forms of abuse, exploitation and deprivation and children living and working in the streets are no exception. Although issues of human rights have long been recognised and provisions made for the enjoyment of the same through international human rights instruments including the 1948 UN Charter, it was for a long time assumed that this Charter protected children and adults equally. It is only recently that it was realised that children are more vulnerable than adults and as such require special protection. This led to the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989 by the United Nations. The Convention, ratified by all member-states of the United Nations except two[11], is a revolutionary document. For the first time in human history, children are recognised as legitimate subjects of human rights. It guarantees four basic rights for all children regardless of their socio-cultural and economic context:


·        Right to development

·        Right to survival

·        Right to participation

·        Right to protection


Incorporated in the above four are the rights to adequate shelter, nutrition, education, medical care, parental love, clothing, social security and protection against drugs, exploitation, sexual abuse, discrimination and disasters.


The CRC also acknowledges that children are not a homogenous group; indeed it identifies various categories of children in need of special protection, including children living in the streets, working children, disabled children, adolescent mothers and more recently, children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. It reiterates the right of all these children to development, survival, participation and protection.


Though the phenomenon of children living and working on the streets is universal, it is most pervasive in developing countries in Africa and Asia (Velis, 1995), as well as Latin America. A number of research studies on these children exist, many commissioned by agencies that seek to uphold the rights of the child and include NGOs, government departments and also individual authors interested in the phenomenon.  Also available are reports of conferences and workshops. The ultimate aim of most of these researches and fora has often been to design or strengthen informed interventions for the targeted children.



In this chapter, selected literature, both published and unpublished on children living and working on the streets, is reviewed. Special attention has been paid to relevant literature from Kenya.


The chapter is divided into three sections in addition to the introduction. In Section 3.1 some emerging issues are discussed focusing on conceptual and methodological concerns. Key research findings of the major studies reviewed are briefly recapitulated in Section 3.2.

3.1           Emerging Issues

Conceptual Issues

Any good literature should delineate the core issues pertinent to the problem under review, regardless of whether it is based on research findings, workshop reports or simply a book. Of concern are isolation of key concepts and how the authors define them in the relevant contexts, gender sensitivity to and about the subjects and issues that relate to them as well as to the rights of the child. In this section, a critique is presented of the material reviewed in relation to the above issues.


Defining a “Child”

Who or what is a child?  In most of the literature reviewed on street children either (a) the concept “child” has not been defined, its meaning being taken for granted (Suda, 1995; Ruto, 1999; NCBDA, 2001; Kudrati, 2001); or (2) it has been defined in terms of age, usually under eighteen. The latter definition is consistent with the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which defines a child as anyone under the age of 18 years. This is the age at which, in most countries of the world that an individual becomes a legal adult and a full citizen of her/his country.  In a few cases, children have been classified according to age groups, e.g. 0-5 or infants, 6-15 or school aged, and 15-18 or youth. Particular studies have focused on a specific age group only. For example, one study on street girls have concentrated on children between the ages of 5 and 18 (Muraya, 1993) while another one on Nairobi street children has targeted children aged 6 to 16 (McCaffrey, 1999). Only 10 percent of the respondents (or seven to eight individuals) in the NCBDA report (2001) would qualify to be children if the 18 years of age criterion is applied.


In a minority of cases, children are defined by what they are not and what they are.  According to Save the Children, U.K., children are “not workers, they are not sexual, not married, not parents, they are not smokers, drinkers, …(Save the Children, U.K., Development Manual No. 4, 1994:8). What they are, the manual says, is quite limited – they are in families, they go to school, they play. They are preparing to become adults. Quite a challenging definition in any study on children and especially one on the street children!


Defining “Street” Children

The concept of street children, however, has been the focus of more discussion in the literature than that of the “child” as noted above. Variously termed as vagrants, homeless children, abandoned children, or run-away children, the meaning of street children has evolved over time, as researchers and street workers have increasingly become more sensitive to the issues of human rights.


Early definitions describe street children as those children who spend most of their waking and sleeping hours on the streets. As Kudrati (2001) point out, “such an approach may lead to limited interventions, as many other vulnerable children spend most of their waking hours on the streets, but sleep at home” (pg. 2). A more recent approach has been to make a distinction between children for whom the street is either full or part-time home (Gruber 1978; ANPPCAN, 1991; Aptekar 1995; Mathenge, 1996; and Shorter, 1998). According to this perspective, full-time street children work and live in the streets while the part-timers work on the streets returning home in the evenings, taking their earnings to their families.


In a study commissioned by Save the Children (U.K) and conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the vulnerable groups of children in Kinshasa, varied definitions of the street children are put forward. These definitions include


·        A homogeneous group of children living on the streets without any adult support

·        Visible children who can be seen working in the streets

·        Those children whose family support base has become increasingly weakened and therefore must share in the responsibility for family survival by working on the city streets and market places. (Mdoe, 1999)


“Real” street children are defined by UNICEF as children for whom the street, (in the widest sense of the word) more than their family, has become their real homes, a situation in which there is no protection, supervision or direction from responsible adults.


It is important to note that the above definitions are based on care, support, dwelling and economic contexts. The most used criteria for assessing vulnerability in the children is whether or not they live with their family of origin. This definition assumes that children who live full time on the street have no relations with adults or any means of protection. It is based on the concept that the best placement for a child is within a home and family of origin.


A study by Save the Children Canada (1994) further identifies different categories of street children as follows:


§         Children of the street-homeless: These children live on the street, are independent of authority and have no contracts with their parents. They undertake different economic activities e.g. garbage re-cycling, begging, petty theft, etc.

§         Children in conflict with the law: They include children who have a police record, have been to prison, in police lock ups or remand homes and those who are trying to resettle back in society.

§         AIDS orphans: These are children whose both parents have died of AIDS.

§         Child workers: Children doing odd jobs in the community and on the street. Most of them live at home and work largely to support themselves and/or contribute to their family’s income/survival

§         Children living in institutions such as street children’s centres and religious centres

§         Truant children: These are children found in communities working on the streets, playing games, sitting in corners and do not attend school regularly

§         Child parents: Mainly found in communities working on the street and in some institutions. They have taken over care and responsibility for their children

§         Child sex workers: Found in the community, street, bars, guesthouses and other places of leisure. They earn money by performing sexual services mostly to men passing by or to street dwellers.


The above groups of children are exposed to various forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence and abuse, STD’s and HIV/AIDS scourge.


Similar studies conducted in and outside Kenya concur with the conceptual definitions of the street children (GTZ Kenya, 1998; SCF-UK, 1999). The studies provide a two-pronged definition of a street child. First, a child on the street meaning, that they stay on the streets to find work but at the end of the day go back to their families and share what they have earned. The second group is that of the children of the streets. These children have no home and the street is their only source of income, protection and comfort. The studies further define a street child as one below the age of eighteen. Kudrati (2001) also adopts a two-pronged definition, distinguishing between full-time street children and working street children.


A UNICEF study on street children in Bujumbura further defines a street child as “one who either spends 24 hours in the street or spends his or her days in the street”. (UNICEF, 1990:4).  The NCNN (2001) perspective concurs with the above definitions. This perspective views street children as a social term that refers to those (children) for whom the street has replaced the family and the home as the focal point of their existence and communal interactions. The children live in circumstances devoid of any protection, supervision or direction from responsible adults. Further, the study identifies four primary clusters of children whose existence revolves around the streets:


·        Children on the street. These children maintain good family ties and often return home in the evening after spending the day on the street begging, working or engaging in petty offences.

·        Children of the streets. They have loose family contacts, spend some nights or days on the streets and occasionally go back home.

·        Children in the streets. These groups of children are completely detached from their families, leading a life in makeshift shelters.

·        Children of street families. Consist of children who are born and bred on the streets.



Muraya (1993) identifies yet another category of children, i.e., those

accompanied by a parent, usually the mother, onto the streets. The mother sits alone or with an infant on a pavement adjacent to a building begging for whatever little she can get. Meanwhile the children move around the building begging and in some instances carrying babies on their backs not necessarily theirs but to attract attention and sympathy from the public. All the earnings are taken to the mother who keeps count of what each child brings in. (P. 31)


Newly emerging concepts are those of streetism and of street families. “Streetism” refers to the sub-culture of the streets characterised by distinct language, initiation rituals and social norms peculiar to members of the group (Ennew, 1995).


“Street families”, according to a recent study, are more than an aggregate of street children or street people. They vary in structure and composition. Two main family structures may be discerned:

·        Real or blood families whose members are related biologically

·        Non-blood families whose members forge kinship ties on the streets with or without marital relationships and the exercise of conjugal rights.


Street families are characterised by common identity, sense of purpose, shelter and region or zones within which they operate. An operational definition of street families would then be “A group of people living together in the streets in an organised grouping be it children or otherwise, related by blood or not, but who live in the streets permanently and have nowhere else to call their home” (NCBDA, 2001:8).


Gender Sensitivity

An objective study of children living and working on the streets requires an investigation of not only the causative and remedial factors, but also of the gender dynamics in the streets. The factors accounting for the presence of boy and girl children is likely to be different. Similarly, the impact of living and working on the street will be significantly different for the female and the male child on the street. This review thus attempted to assess the level of gender sensitivity in the existing literature on children working and living on the streets. 

Box 4: A Street Child by any other name

Parking boy: boys helping motorists find parking spaces in Nairobi city centre

Beach boy: boys roaming the beaches in coastal Kenya peddling drugs and souvenirs to tourists

Njugu boy: In Kisumu usually selling peanuts (and sometimes ice-cream) on the streets


Source: Adapted from Muraya (1993)


For a long time it was assumed that children living and working on the streets are only boys. This attitude is reflected in the terminology used in various parts of Kenya to refer to the street children, viz. parking boys (in Nairobi), beach boys (in Mombasa) and Njugu[12] boys (in Kisumu). No doubt this situation came about because of the greater visibility of boys than girls, on the streets. In the early literature and discourses on street children, it was hardly surprising that term “street children” was conceptually equated to “street boys”. Notice of girls on the streets began to be taken since the late 1980s. (Muraya, 1993; Dallape, 1987).



Unfortunately, an analysis of the literature reveals that despite this acknowledgement over the last decade or so, much of the available research is not gender sensitive:


·        There is evidence of research that is out rightly gender blind.

·        Few of the reports provide gender-disaggregated data even when the study targets both girls and boys. Gender disaggregation in these reports is often confined to the presentation of the number and percentages of boys and girls in the study sample.

·        In many of the studies, consideration of gender as a key variable is little more than cosmetic. In these studies, gender or empowerment perspectives are notably absent in the analysis of the data.


As a result, girls remain invisible or at best, in the periphery in many of the studies reviewed. For example, in the seventy-three paged survey report[13] on street children in the Nairobi business district, information on street girls is presented briefly on the following pages:


·        pg. 11/12 and pg. 70 as girls constituting a minority group vis-à-vis boys

·        pg. 29 in Figure 10 indicating percentage of girls involved in criminal activities as perceived by adult respondents

·        pg. 44 figure 21 where a breakdown of the gender profile of street children/families who responded to the survey questionnaire is presented


Suda (1993) may be commended for making a deliberate effort to maintain a gender balance in the sample of the baseline survey she conducted for the Child Welfare Society of Kenya. As a result, 27 percent of the sample size was female. However, she does not proceed to disaggregate the rest of the data by gender in the rest of the report, observing that “Apart from some variations in work patterns between males and female children, there were no statistically significant differences in views, perceptions and aspirations based on gender” (pg. 15). Unfortunately, even these variations in work patterns are not identified in the report. Similarly, though the report mentions that some rehabilitation programmes are gender specific, it is not mentioned which ones and how many are catering for girls and how many for boys. Reference is made only to the fact that older girls are trained in tailoring, knitting and embroidery while boys take up apprenticeship in carpentry, mechanical work, masonry and shoe repair among other things. The recommendations that are made (in this and most of the other reports reviewed) are not gender-specific.


However, it is important not to confuse gender insensitivity and gender specificity. The study by Muraya (1993) and Ruto (1999) are examples of gender specific research focusing on street girls and boys respectively. Done in pursuance of an academic degree, Muraya uses the paucity of literature on street girls to justify her focus on them.  Commissioned by the Kwetu Home of Peace (1999) to do a baseline of street children in Nairobi, Ruto’s focus on street boys as informants was precipitated by the Terms of Reference of the research. It should be noted that the Kwetu House of Peace, located in Nairobi South, is an initiative that currently caters for street boys only. Initially, it had opened its doors to both genders but reversed the move in mid-1994 due to various problems experienced by the Home administration in managing girls and boys within the same premises (Ruto, 1999).


Among the studies that utilise gender perspective is that by Kudrati (2001) describing the street children of Khartoum. A qualitative study of children in need of special protection measures provides information on both girls and boys in the streets of various urban areas of Somalia (Wamahiu, 2000).


In his study on vulnerable groups of children in Kinshasa, Congo, Mdoe (1999) has provided gender-disaggregated data that facilitates a clear understanding of the unique situation of the female and male child on the street. The research population consisted of 54% boys and 46% girls. The research reveals that due to the traditional gender division if labour, children who live on the street are mainly sex workers. The research further observes that only the girls, despite the stigma, were able to admit that they were involved in the sex trade. In contrast, only two boys admitted to the sex trade. The study further discusses the different categories of children on the streets. Child sex workers are identified as one of the categories with an observation that it is the girls, more than the boys who are exposed to the most grievous forms of sexual violence and abuse, STD’s and AIDS. This study creates the visibility for the girls and the boys on the street.


In another study of the street children and gangs in African cities, the phenomenon of single female-headed households is identified as a significant contributory factor to the street child prevalence in slum settlements (UMP Working Paper Series 18:2, 2000).  In this study, which was conducted in the sprawling Mathare and Korogocho slum settlements of Nairobi, single female-headed households constitute between 60% and 80% of the population.  The study further observes that poor parents are likely to pull their children from school to supplement family income. More often than not, the girl children become the ultimate casualties in favour of the boys. The study reveals that the girls’ survival activities on the street are limited to begging and prostitution.  Other studies on the street girls in Nairobi found out that close to 90% of these girls come from households suffering from physical and verbal abuse, and alcoholism.  More than half of the girls originated from single parent households in low income settlements (Ocholla, 1995; Ocholla, 1996).


The above study further describes the nature of gender relationships that exist between the boys and the girls on the streets.  Some of the children live in makeshift dwelling units “chuoms.”  In these dwelling units, street boys tend to take the responsibility of the girls by acting the role of “husbands” to them. They provide their “wife” with protection and make sure they have sufficient food and medicines.  The girls must in return accord the boys emotional and sexual favours.


Available literature confirms that whereas both street boys and street girls live and work on the streets, the girls are far less visible on the street than the boys. However, their problems are desperately serious (CRDA News, Sept./Oct. 1993). In this publication, a survey of 38 girls revealed that 37% had suffered sexual attacks and harassment by street boys who cannot afford prostitute services.  Wamahiu (2000) also reports alleged attack on street girls by street boys. Gary (1991), observes that girls on the streets are more vulnerable than the boys as they are less able to protect themselves and are subject to various forms of sexual abuse.


An early example of gender sensitivity in the literature is a publication entitled “You are a thief” (Dallape, 1987). Recounting the experiences of Undugu Society, a pioneer in the area of working with street children, the author captures the perspectives of children, both boys and girls. He describes how the street boys and girls perceive themselves and the problems that are gender specific. More significantly, it discusses how boys and girls can change their situations, thus offering them the glimmer of hope.


The Issue of Rights and Children’s Participation

Several studies note the hostility of the general public towards Kenyan street children (Ruto, 1999; Shorter, 1999; Were, 1998; Aptekar 1995; Dallape 1987). A publication by the Africa Chapter of the Human Rights Watch (1997) describes the abuse and detention of street children in Kenya. The report observes the routine violation of international law by law enforcing agencies in the country as they round up street children, keep them for days and weeks in police lockups under deplorable physical conditions. The report also records statements by street girls relating horrifying tales of sexual violence perpetrated on them by members of the law enforcement agencies. One survivor of rape had this to say:


The police are always calling us names, threatening us, saying we’re whores, trash, homeless, and beating us. Sexual abuse happens too. It happened to me once, here in Jeevanjee [Gardens, a public park]. Four policemen came and arrested me near City Market. They started taking me to the Central Police Station, and brought me to the park. One of them hit me and I fell down, and he came down on top of me. Another held me down while the policeman raped me. After he raped me, they walked me over to central police station, and just let me go. (Pamela, Interviewed by Human Rights Watch and quoted in their publication 1997: 27)


Related studies on child rights confirm that child justice system is the most incapacitated and neglected segment in Kenya’s judicial hierarchy. Noting that accessing justice is difficult enough for adults in Kenya, NCNN (2001) observes that it can be a nightmare where children are involved.  The result is that many children continue to suffer monstrous violations of their rights, including disinheritance and sexual abuse without effective legal redress or relief. The study further observed that until April 2002 there was only one permanent juvenile court in Kenya located in the capital Nairobi. However, the juvenile justice system improved tremendously with the enactment of the Children Act No. 8 of 2001 and the subsequent gazettment of children magistrates between April and August 2002. In all other areas, the normal criminal court had to occasionally convert to a juvenile court. Baker (1991) and SNV-Kenya SCP (2001) concur with the above findings on child rights issues pertaining to street children.  Baker observes that there is evidence of “death squad activity” or police violence directed at street children.  These law enforcement officers also often attack and sexually abuse the street girls. SNV/Kenya (2001) further confirms that until recently, street children were not represented in court in Kenya and that it was the magistrate’s duty to ensure that their rights were upheld without relinquishing the magistrate’s duty as an advocate.


While most of the studies recognise the rights of the street children, hostility towards them may still be detected in some of the literature. Some of the materials reviewed tend to describe such children in derogatory terms such as “vagrant” (NCBDA, 2001). In some of the other studies the voices of the children remain mute.


An issue related to that of children’s rights is that of research ethics. Ennew (1994) recognise children as “capable, resourceful people whose individual histories, feeling and opinions must be respected” (pg. 3). She argues therefore, that projects must be considered as working with rather than for the children, “encouraging and facilitating their fullest possible participation” (ibid). This approach implies that children must agree to participate in the research process and that their informed consent must be sought. With the notable exception of the study on children living and working in Khartoum, all the other reports are silent on the issue. Kudrati (2001) go into detailed explanations of how they managed to get the informed consent of children to participate in the study.


Methodological Issues

The issue of children’s participation has methodological implications with regard to the overall approach adopted for a study as well as the specific techniques selected. In this sub-section, we turn to the consideration of some of the methodological issues that emerge from the review of literature.


Although there is a wide choice of investigative techniques, all are allied to either one of the two paradigms of research, that is, qualitative or quantitative. For purposes of complementing the deficiency of one paradigm, many researchers are prone to mixing the two for enriched information and more valid results (UMP Working Paper Series 18, 2000). Moreover, some of the methods may not be applicable in every context and must be selected according to the size and other characteristics of the research site.


The unique nature of the street children phenomenon requires that both qualitative and quantitative methods be employed in order to ensure objectivity and validity of the results (Kudrati, 2001; NCBDA, 2001). This is demonstrated in several of the studies reviewed. Among the quantitative methods used is counting. The method consists of mapping of the study area, subdividing it into manageable units and where possible, categorising areas with similar characteristics. In-depth surveys and use of censuses are the other methods commonly used to collect quantitative data. These techniques are useful for counts undertaken in large and diverse areas. They presuppose the availability of maps indicating socio-economic areas, zones with specific functions and population density by zone (UMP Working Paper Series 18; 2000).


Qualitative methods that have been used to research on children on the street include outreach and animation, Participatory Action Research with Children (PACR), Rapid Open Assessment Surveys and Risk mapping (Save the Children, U.K., 1999; SNV-Kenya SCP, 1998). Outreach and animation involves visiting centres and talking to children on the street. The idea is to identify and motivate children and organisations to participate in the study through picture drawing and reading for children. This is a powerful method, which helps to break down barriers as children readily identify with the process and are given the opportunity to express themselves through drawing. Participatory Action Research with Children (PACR) is a child friendly qualitative research method in which children identify and analyse their own problems, prioritise causes and formulate plans to deal with the problems.  The rapid open assessment survey method involves using a short open questionnaire, which is used to collect qualitative data. This method requires that the researcher be sensitive to the literacy levels of the research subjects. The questionnaire would need to be administered directly.  Risk mapping is usually conducted in form of Focussed Group Discussions (FGDs) whereby the society is divided into two circles, the inner one representing where the most affluent live and the outer one where the most vulnerable live. Children are asked to define or map the locations of the different groups or units of children.  The children mapped in the periphery of the outer circle are the ones perceived by the children to be in most need. A good example of the use of participatory techniques is Ruto’s study of Nairobi’s street children conducted on behalf of Kwetu Home of Peace (1999).


An example of the use of the traditional anthropological participant-observation method may be found in Muraya’s study of street girls (1993). One effective strategy that she employed to gather meaningful data was “to constantly engage in conversation with the children…aimed at learning more about their backgrounds, their life on the streets and the relationship between gangs” (pg. 5).


Sampling of the children on the street has been identified as problematic due to the fact that most of the children are mobile, making it impractical to do any accurate accounting of the actual number. The study by Save the Children, U.K. (1991) asserts that there is no logistical way of ensuring that the same child had not been counted twice. In an attempt to overcome this problem, children are selected randomly. Suda (1993) reports that all the research six assistants involved in data collection “went to each area or location and did the interviews together before they could move to the next place. This strategy”, according to the researcher, “was intended to avoid the possibility of interviewing a child twice” (p. 9). Kudrati tried to circumvent double counting by asking children whether they had been counted before, and verifying it by asking them for the number assigned to them as respondents.


Data validity and reliability constitute an important component of any research. Data collection tools need to be refined and pre-tested to ensure their validity. Data collected on children in the streets can be verified in some countries where facilities are available by examining their health records and files at local health centres (if they exist), clinics and children’s files at local government children’s offices and local NGOs. Use of a control group is also important in validating data especially in studies using experimental or quasi-experimental designs.


Quality of Research on Street Children in Kenya

A good number of research studies on street children in Kenya have been done through the commissioning of either local or international NGOs or through local agencies and organisations interested in or working with children in the street. Most commissioned researches usually contain specific terms of reference against which the research is measured.


A review of the literature identified some major gaps, which ultimately affect the quality of the researches. These include gender insensitivity in the design of the research instruments, and in data analysis where in some cases the literature does not provide gender-disaggregated data.  The research findings do not bring out clearly the gender dynamics of the girls and the boys on the streets.  As a result, proposed interventions do not also target the gender specific needs of the female and the male children.


Generally speaking, several of the studies reviewed were also found to be methodologically weak, the study conducted by NCBDA (2001) study being a case in point. The study for example, talks of using “judgmental random sampling …to get quality information”(pg. 4)! The concept “judgmental random sample” is a contradiction in terms as by the very nature of randomness, a sample cannot be judgmental and random at the same time. It is also difficult to understand how “friendship groups” can be “held” as a method of data collection (pg. 3)!


The validity of information collected is crucial if appropriate, relevant and effective interventions on street children are to be designed and implemented.  There is need to assess the validity of the data collected, looking particularly for contradictions between the data sets from different sources.  Such contradictions may be due to differences in definitions, or perspectives, or to different methods of data collection. Studies so conducted should think of the underlying assumptions about children, families, working children and street children that were made by the researchers.  The validity of such assumptions needs to be ascertained within their diverse social, economic and political contexts.

3.1 Key Findings

What are the key findings of the various research studies and the conclusions of conferences and workshops reviewed in this chapter? What are the trends and issues identified? In this section, we turn our attention to addressing these questions. The significance of the findings cannot be overly emphasised as they provide important entry points for researchers, children’s rights agencies and activists, and policy makers in understanding and developing relevant actions to address the problems and needs of children on the street.


Establishing the Magnitude of the Problem

From the literature reviewed, it is difficult to establish the magnitude of the problem. The review reinforces the impression that most of the statistics quoted on the number of street children in Kenya are little more than “guesstimates”. According to a study initiated by the Attorney-General’s Office, there were 300,000 street children in the country by 1991 (ANPPCAN, 1995). The number of children on the street was based on projections derived from secondary data sources including available information on the 6-18 age group, school enrolment and drop-out rates. The authors of the NCBDA report (2001) conclude that: “However, this was almost ten years ago and the figure is expected to have increased astronomically” (pg. 11). No attempt is made to estimate the extent of the increase nor is evidence  produced to substantiate this statement.


About the same time as the Study by the Attorney-General’s Office, Undugu Society was estimating the street children population in the country to be 130,000 while Munyakho (1992) quotes a figure of 25,000 (both studies are cited in Muraya, 1993).  A more recent estimate is 135,000 cited in the Standard Newspaper of April 20, 2001 following a joint statement between the Government of Kenya and UNICEF (reported in AMREF, 2002).


Similarly, unsubstantiated statements on the population of street children in Nairobi are to be found in some of the other studies. For example, “The number of street children in Nairobi has increased considerably in the recent past” states Suda (1993). We are not told against what figures and date this increase is being evaluated, and how much this increase has been. While the researcher reports that her sample of street children comprised 400 individuals, no indication is given of what proportion of the total population of street children in Nairobi this represents.  


One breakthrough in trying to establish authentic figures is perhaps AMREF’s recent baseline study (2002) on Children in Need of Special Protection (CNSP). This study, covering the Dagoretti Division of Nairobi, included street children as one of the main categories of CNSP. It is important to note that the AMREF sample included individuals up to the age of nineteen.


The above confusion regarding the magnitude of the problem in numerical terms is perhaps understandable. Kudrati (2001), commissioned to do a head count of children in the streets of Khartoum were only able to count a total of 2,037 full and part-time street children including those who did not give their consent. They estimated that the figure was only a small percentage of the total and projected that the actual numbers on the streets of the Sudanese capital could be approximately 35,000. The study took almost one year to complete using both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection.


The researchers identified the following as obstacles to the counting exercise:


·        The high mobility of the children living and working on the streets

·        Lack of central registration or meeting points

·        Seasonal fluctuations arising from school holiday periods, or during times when they may not be needed for farm work in their rural home

·        Daily fluctuations depending on the presence of a kasha or an arrest campaign by the local health authorities.


The Age of the Children:

One of the key findings pertains to the age of the children on the streets. Save the Children, U.K. (1991) indicate that 10% of the street children in Kinshasa are children under the age of ten, meaning that they come to the street at a much younger age. In another study of street children in Kumasi, Ghana, one half of the children interviewed were aged 15 or below (Korboe, 1997).  Boys constituted 51% of the sample and girls 49%.


Kudrati (2001) makes a distinction between the full time and working street children in Khartoum. According to their study, 47 percent of the full-time children fell within the 15-18 age bracket followed by 37 percent in the 11-14 age group. About 14 percent were under 10 years of age. Gender disaggregation of the data reveal similar trends for both full-time street boys and girls.


The pattern changes somewhat when the age of the working children are examined. The highest percentage of working children seem to belong to the 11-14 age group (44%) followed by the 15-18 year olds (35%) and under 10s (18%). The percentage of those below 10 years of age is higher in the case of the working children than the full-time street children. The study also reveals significant gender differences in the age of the working street children.


The NCBDA study does not present primary data on the age of street children. Instead they adopt the findings of the study commissioned by the Attorney-General’s Office referred to earlier. According to that study the majority of the street children fall between 6-15 age range. Suda’s (1993) baseline study confirms that 90 percent of the children fall within this age bracket. However, the highest concentration of the children are to be found between the age ranges of 12-14 (64.3%). No gender disaggregation of the data is provided in the latter study though the former states that 80 percent of the 6-15 year olds are female.


Ethnicity of the Children

All the Kenyan-based studies that were reviewed agree that the majority of the street children in Nairobi are ethnically Kikuyu. Suda’s study place Kikuyu’s at 60 percent of the total sample of street children with 30 percent of the latter saying that they were from the neighbouring Muranga District. The other ethnic groups in the sample were the Kamba (12 percent), Luhya (12 %), Luo (11.5%) and a combination of others (4.5%).


The NCBDA report, based on secondary sources of data, confirms Suda’s findings. However, it does not give any precise figures beyond stating that the Kikuyus dominate given the proximity of Nairobi to Kiambu District.[14] Nor does it mention which other ethnic groups are represented among the street children of Nairobi.


The Pull and Push factors

The literature attributes the presence of children on the streets to “push” factors such as poverty, war, drought, family dysfunction and the death of a parent as well as “pull” factors like following friends (peer influence), or believing that there were good things to discover on the streets.  Kudrati (2001) found that one quarter of the full-time street girls and a tenth of the boys came from homeless families.


The findings relating to the Nairobi situation is similar. Ruto (1999) identifies the primary “push” factor as the poor quality of family life (in terms of the provision of food, clothing, shelter and emotional support). She writes:


Various factors contribute to the ultimate family type the most crucial being the economic status and the will of the family to supersede the otherwise dependent environment. It is this that may explain the presence of the families in the slums, who depend on equally meagre sources of income but are able to retain their children in school and therefore curtail any intent at street life. These families, it is assumed, are able to feed their families and offer an emotional and psychological cushion to their children. Where alcoholism, commercial sex activities, negligence are rife children are bound to go to the streets. (pg. 35)


Other push factors identified by the researcher include the use of corporal punishment, occasional escapades to the streets, truancy from school and idleness due to lack of schooling.


The strongest pull factors were identified as peer influence and the use of drugs in Ruto’s study. The promise of freedom offered by the streets and the continued availability of basic provisions apparently act as significant pull factors in the case of boys. Similarly, the influence of friends emerges as the most critical factor pulling girls to the streets (Muraya, 1993).


“The Hearing on Street Children in Kenya” talks of poverty, family breakdown, child abuse (particularly of girls), domestic violence, lack of communication at home and in school, and problems relating to shelter and the environment as direct reasons for the street children phenomenon. To this list may be added the issues of parental negligence, rejection and abandonment (ANPPCAN, 1995). An increasingly significant factor contributing to  streetism is orphan hood caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.


Public Perceptions of Street Children

All the literature reviewed reveals the negative perceptions that the larger society has of street children. They are regarded as deviants and criminals and “not as people who have been deprived of their rights” (NCBDA, 2001). A substantially large proportion of children perceive that the public views them negatively: 37 percent said that they are viewed with suspicion while another 18 percent alleged that they are treated with contempt (Suda, 1993).


The negative public perception of street children is best exemplified by their relationship with the police and other law enforcement officers. Children complain of constant harassment and abuse by members of the law enforcement agencies and arrest for offences ranging from loitering, begging, sniffing glue and stealing (NCBDA, 2001; Muraya, 1993). To resist arrest, the children apparently hurl human faeces at the police or smear their bodies with foul smelling substance (NCBDA, 2001)


Greater Vulnerability of Girls

Street girls are more vulnerable than the street boys and are exposed to greater physical, emotional and sexual abuse from fellow street boys and other male passers-by (SNV -SCP, 2001).  Kudrati (2001) similarly notes the physical and sexual abuse either from street boys or men in the general public experienced by the girls on the streets of Khartoum. According to the study, qualitative research revealed the fear of police and public security forces linked closely to physical and sexual violence. Similar experiences in Kenya have already been noted in the section on gender sensitivity.


Activities Engaged in by Street Children

The NCBDA report (2001) observes that street children engage in both positive and negative activities. Among the positive activities notes are scavenging for waste materials for sale; guarding and directing cars; assisting shoppers; and cleaning the environment. The negative activities engaged in by them are listed as begging, drug abuse, stealing, unsafe sex, violent fights and acting as spies for thieves.


Additional activities emerging from other studies include hawking, washing cars, selling groundnuts and fruits, and the sale of drugs (Suda, 1993) and carrying luggage for people at a fee (Ruto, 1999).


For girls, prostitution and begging appear to be the two most common income earning activities regardless of the reason for coming to the streets. According to Muraya’s (1993) findings, 67 percent of the girls in her sample engaged in both these activities. Ruto (1999) reports the practice of (homosexual) prostitution by boys.


Interventions and Organisations

The report of the conference on the rehabilitation of street children (SNV-SCP, 2001) reveals that in Nairobi alone, there are more than 250 organisations focusing on both actual and potential street children. Dependant on voluntarism and charity (SNV-SCP, 2001), many of these organisations provide similar services, focusing on feeding, vocational training, medical care, shelter, counselling and evangelism (Suda, 1993).


The provision of education is another common service provided to street children. Various initiatives for non-formal and informal schools have been identified to provide basic and vocational education to these children. Such initiative appears to have been stigmatised as alternatives that are designed specifically for the poor, hence the street child stand the risk of further marginalisation (Forum for Actors in Street Children Work, 2001). Informal schools often lack necessary infrastructure, qualified teachers, teaching and learning equipment, and certification of those taught, so they at risk of  offering very low education. Skills training which is offered in most of these institutions is meant to assist the children to become independent and self-reliant. Findings however reveal that this training has become too monotonous and is not to the liking of most street children. The challenge now is for such skills training to be more diversified and made more market/demand oriented in terms of income generation for real effect (Forum for Actors in Street Children Work, 2001).


In addition, the studies reveal that street children suffer discrimination while trying to gain admission to the public hospitals.  Street children have relatively little access to health care and there are no programmes in place specifically for them in public facilities.  Studies have further identified that since most street children initiatives rely on volunteerism and charity, this leads to various constraints in the operations of children’s organizations, such as poor management, high staff turn over, duplication of work and poor results in the rehabilitation of the children. 


There are exceptions of course. An interesting intervention recorded in the literature is use of the theatre to advocate for the rights of street children. A report on the Sambamba Street Theatre point to a success story---the discipline and creativity of the theatre has apparently helped street children to give up drug abuse and develop a new sense of self-worth and belief in one’s own talents (UNDCP, no date).

3.5 Summary

The chapter reviews literature on the phenomenon of street children in and outside Kenya within the context of a world where the human rights of all ---old and young, poor and rich, male and female---are increasingly being recognised. The review touches upon conceptual and methodological issues that have been guiding the study and understanding of street children. It points out the difficulties in defining the concept despite the universality of the phenomenon. It also identifies two emerging concepts found in recent literature: streetism and street families.


Much of the literature reviewed reveal tokenism in relation to gender and rights’ sensitivity. With notable exceptions, the studies---whether academic or commissioned---do not go beyond presentation of nominal gender disaggregated data and superficial analysis of the situation. Closely linked to this are the methodological issues. Again inadequate and/or inappropriate use is made of both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies in most of the surveys conducted in Kenya.  The absence of detailed documentation of the research process and design leaves the critical reader without a framework to assess the validity of the findings. The chapter also presents some of the key findings emerging from the literature.



4.0    Introduction

As mentioned in the earlier chapters, accurate numbers of children on the streets of Nairobi are not available. “Guestimates”, reported in the national and international media place the numbers from anywhere between 40,000 (Sunday Nation 10th Feb 2002) to 200,000 (Newsweek 28th Jan 2002). This immense variation in numbers has as much to do with the absence of rigorous research and clear definitions of the target population, as it has to do with the nature of children living and working in the streets of Nairobi. There is also an element of exaggeration---sometimes deliberate, sometimes not, sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes motivated by self-interest.


In this chapter, the findings of the headcount of the research population are presented. The Headcount used two interrelated instruments: First, was a brief questionnaire that sought basic information about children interviewed. The second was an even shorter instrument that targeted children under the age of five. This questionnaire was administered to the person accompanying the under-five. In a clear majority of cases (56.7%), the person with whom the infant was found was the mother or another female relative like a sister (11.2%) or aunt (2.7%).  The remaining 29.4% is discussed in detail later in the chapter.


Consistent with research ethics, the consent of the subjects was sought to ask the questions and write down the answers. It is possible, therefore, that some children who refused to give permission may not have been counted. This is especially true of girls living and working on the streets of Nairobi.


It was not possible to cover the whole of Nairobi given the time and resources available to the research team. Twelve sites were purposively selected for the Headcount using the presence of partner organisations willing to participate in the study as a determining criterion. The sites were: Kibera, Mukuru, Embakasi, Nairobi West, KCC/BuruBuru/ Kariobangi South, Huruma/Kariobangi, Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani, Korogocho, City Centre, Pumwani/Ziwani, Majengo, Dandora/Maili Saba and finally, Kasarani. Notable omissions were Westlands, Kawangare and Karen/Langata. Dagoretti was deliberately excluded from the current study because of another Headcount that had been conducted there recently by AMREF[15]. The data presented in the chapter largely focuses on children eighteen and below unlike the AMREF study which targeted adolescents up to the age of nineteen. However, where adolescents volunteered to give information, the data were included and analysed. In a few cases, it was found necessary to gain access to the younger people (below age 18) through the older ones (above age 18).



The profiles of the children on the streets of Nairobi are sketched in this chapter in terms of their age, gender, ethnicity, language use, schooling and parents occupation. Information is also presented in the chapter on how long the children have been on the streets as well as how many of them actually consider the streets to be their home, and how many are “part-timers”, coming to the streets mainly for subsistence and/or other purposes.

4.1    Counting the Children

The Headcount (including the under fives) in the twelve research locales yielded a total of 10,424 children. Analysis of the data show that the highest concentration of the children was found to be at the City Centre (16.27%) followed by Mukuru (13.97%), Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani (12.29%) and Huruma/Kariobangi (12.19%). Together, these four locales host more than half (54.76%) the total number of children living and working in the 12 sites in Nairobi District. According to the research findings, Kasarani, Embakasi, Nairobi West/Wilson/Madaraka and Pumwani/Ziwani/Kariokor, had the least number of children together constituting less than 13 percent of the total number counted (See Figure 1).



Figure 1: Distribution of Children by Research Locale

                                                 Source: Headcount Questionnaire (N=9697)


The Age Profile of the Children

Table 3 summarises the distribution of children counted by research locale and age. The table reveals that among the numbers counted, the under-five year old children comprise approximately 7 percent of the total. As expected, the highest numbers of under-five children were found in the same four sites as the highest number of older children, i.e. City Centre, Mukuru, Mathare/Eastleigh/Pangani and Huruma/Kariobangi North. Figure 2 presents the same data graphically.


Table 3: Number and Percentage of Children Living and Working on Nairobi
           Streets Disaggregated by Age (n = 10424)


5 Years and Above

Below 5


Buru Buru/Kariobangi South / KCC







City Centre







Dandora/Mailli Saba














Huruma/Kariobangi North










































Nairobi W. /Wilson/Madaraka





















Source: Headcount & Under Five Questionnaires, Street Children Study, September 2001-February 2002


Further disaggregation of data on the children five years and above indicates the dominance of eleven to fifteen year olds. This age group constitutes over 50 percent of the valid cases recorded.


Figure 2: Distribution of Children by Age and Locale (N = 10424)


Source: Headcount Questionnaire  & Under five year Questionnaire

The Gender Composition

Approximately a quarter of the total number of children and young people counted in the twelve locales was female. The highest percentage of girls was found in Mukuru followed by Dandora/Maili Saba (at over 40 % and 31% respectively) as shown in Table 4.

Table 4: Age of Children Living and Working on the Streets by Locale and Gender




0-5 Yrs

5-10 Yrs

11-15 Yrs

16-20 yrs

21-25 yrs

> 25 yrs




Buruburu/Kariobangi S./KCC










City Centre










Dandora/Maili Saba




















Huruma/Kariobangi North




























































Nairobi W./Wilson/Madaraka




















Sub - Total













0-5 yrs

5-10 yrs

11-15 yrs

16-20 yrs

21-25 yrs

>25 yrs




Buruburu/Kariobangi S./KCC










City Centre










Dandora/Maili Saba




















Huruma/Kariobangi North




























































Nairobi W./Wilson/Madaraka
































0-5 yrs

5-10 yrs

11-15 yrs

16-20 yrs

21-25 yrs

>25 yrs




Sub-Total Female










Sub-Total Male











no gender specification





















The percentage of girls in the population increases dramatically in the case of children below the age of five. Analysis of the data obtained through the Under-Five Questionnaire reveal that girls constitute approximately 45 percent of the total number of children counted using this instrument (See Figure 3).


Figure 3: Proportion of Children in the Under-Five Population by Gender (n= 727)


Source: Under-Five Questionnaire


Why is there such a big discrepancy in the gender ratio of over-five year olds and the under-fives? Are the girls really relatively fewer than boys or they are just invisible? While there is a possibility that girls are actually fewer in number than boys on the streets of Nairobi, it is equally possible that a significant percentage remained invisible to the enumerators due to a combination of factors:


Firstly, older boys and men often prevented the counting of girls they considered to be their spouses/partners and thus under their protection.


Secondly, culturally, “married” females are perceived to be adults and thus not considered to be’counted’ as children.


Thirdly, the research team was unable to gain access to a site in one of the research locales where concentration of girls under the age of 18 existed. According to key informants, the girls were engaged in commercial sex work. However, it was not possible to penetrate this site within the time available for the fieldwork. Nor was it possible to get independent verification of the allegations.



An overwhelming number of children on the streets of Nairobi identified themselves as Agikuyu (46%). Other ethnic groups represented in significant numbers among the children counted are the Luo (19%), Luhya/Bukusu/Maragoli (11%) and Kamba (11%). Others said they were Somali/Borana/Rendille (3%), Kisii/Kuria (2%), Meru/Embu (2%) and Mixed Ethnicity (1%). As Table 5 indicates, the number of children identifying with other ethnic groups is too few to be significant (See Figure 4 for graphic presentation of the data).

Table 5: Children Living and Working on Streets of Nairobi by Ethnicity


























































Mixed Ethnicity



Mixed race






Don’t Know



Not applicable



No response






Source: Head Count Questionnaire



Disaggregation of the data reveals some interesting variations. Though the Agikuyu dominate regardless of gender, the proportion of girls who identified themselves as Agikuyu out of the total female population was significantly lower (40.7%) than the proportion of boys who similarly identified themselves (47.4%). At the same time, relatively more girls said they were Luo (21.1%), Kamba (12.6%) and Luhya/Bukusu/Maragoli (12.3%) than did boys (18.3%, 10.3% and 10.8% respectively).



Figure 4: Percentage Distribution of Children by Ethnicity (n= 9697)

Source: Head Count Questionnaire


Language Use

On the whole, the data reveals that there are more non-Gikuyu children living and working on the streets of Nairobi than Gikuyus.  However, many of the non-Gikuyu children claimed to be able to speak the language fluently creating the false impression that majority of children of and on the street are ethnically Gikuyu. Other than Kikuyu, the most commonly spoken language was identified as Kiswahili (95.96%) and of course “Sheng”, a slang/language created on the streets. In contrast, a relatively small percentage of children said they could speak English (14.09%). 


Analysis of the data on language use reveal that the children on the streets of Nairobi are multilingual---the vast majority speak at least two languages (66.1%) while a significant proportion speak three (18%). Gender analysis of the data reveals that slightly more girls (69.64%) have knowledge of two languages than the boys (65.14%), while marginally more boys (18.13%) claimed to speak three languages than did the girls (17.4%).



The study shows that majority of the children in the streets of Nairobi are not in any form of school. Asked whether they were currently going to school, only about two-fifths (39.5%) of the over-five year olds replied in the affirmative (See Figure 5). However, it is interesting to note that almost half of the girls who were counted (48.5%) claimed to be involved in some form of education in contrast to a much smaller percentage of boys (36.5%).


Table 6: Number and Percentage of Children in School (N =9,697)       




No Response


1-5 Years









5-10 Years









11-15 Years









16-20 Years









21-25 Years









Above 25 years









Don’t Know









No Response


















Source: Headcount Questionnaire



Figure 5: Percent Distribution of Children in School (N=9697)