“I was scared and cried a lot. After 3 months I was transferred to a bigger centre which was even more frightening.” 

These are the words of Farah aged 10, who spent time in prisons in Kenya. 

His only crime?  Being homeless.

It is incredible to state, but in Mombasa being a child, homeless and on the streets is deemed a crime.  The local government, under pressure from local businesses in this tourist destination, will prefer to round them up and lock them away rather than offering protection and a solution. 

Violent round-ups leading to death

These round-ups are often violent as children resist arrest and some die in the ensuing battles.  Many of these children have left home as life on the street is preferable to life at home, so will have already faced neglect, violence and abandonment before arriving in Mombasa.

Their only defence mechanism is violence, which leads to a vicious cycle of incarceration, release onto the streets and re-capture.

For the last 12 years our partners, Glad’s House, have been working with street children and Rope is supporting their prison work. Bokey, who leads the project team believes that each year 600 children, as young as 4, will be sent to either an adult prison or juvenile centre.  The majority will be incarcerated for 3 months awaiting trial before they are released without charge.  Only 20% are found guilty of a crime and sent to a local rehab school. 

Prison life offers them little protection or dignity.  With cramped living conditions and no age segregation, the majority report verbal, physical or sexual abuse. 

We are there when no one else is there

Glad’s House are the only NGO working in these prisons and their social work team ensure that each child’s legal rights are upheld.  They bring in care packs – toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear, soap and toilet rolls - and offer mentoring and support sessions.  Their physical presence is a daily reminder to prison staff that these children are vulnerable and need protection rather than abuse.  Additionally, their two football coaches, Bufa and Dula, provide daily football and life skills training sessions. The children enjoy the exercise and are keen to learn life skills, which many will never have gained.  Though the social workers work hard to reconcile them back to their families this is not always possible and so these skills are vital to remain safe, when they are returned to the street.

Changing the law

Rope is committed to supporting Glad’s House for two years and in that time we hope to get the law changed. Bokey and his team are seeking to persuade local government officials and police authorities to stop the violent round-ups and ensure the children’s legal rights are respected so their time in prison can be safe, short or ideally avoided completely. 

Sarah's story

It is very easy for children to fall into homelessness, as Sarah's story illustrates.

Sarah, 16, ended up in juvenile remand after she fell out with her mother and ran away from home and was living on the street.  She loved going to school but her mother refused to pay her fees.  The social workers were able to find a place at a boarding school when she was released. 

If Glad’s House hadn’t intervened she would have returned to life on the street.