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International Juvenile Justice Observatory(IJJO) Interviews- Mr. Armstrong Ongera, President and Executive Director of “AID Kenya” Foundation, Kenya.

In this new edition, the juvenile justice system in Kenya is analyzed by Mr. Armstrong, who reveals, among other things, the situation and functioning of the detention system of children in Kenya.

Armstrong O’Brian ONGERA, is the current President and Executive Director, AID Kenya Foundation, a nonprofit humanitarian and development charitable foundation with a mission of ‘Changing Lives, Impacting Humanity’.

The Foundation focuses its feel-good programs and projects through the Project HOPE Kenya, a program focused on orphaned & vulnerable children, teenage mothers, women and youth at risk and the disadvantaged populations in rural-urban Kenya. The Foundation also runs Kitutu Community Resource Center, a project offering vocational training and occupational skills.

Can you please provide us a short description of the main activities and objectives of the AID Kenya Foundation?

AID Kenya Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize voluntary humanitarian aid and development assistance to orphaned and vulnerable children, teenage mothers and disenfranchised populations in rural-urban Kenya.

On humanitarian grounds, the Foundation implements, “The Bringing HOPE and a Sense of BELONGING Program” (The Project HOPE Kenya), which mainly focuses on the following forms of support: Sunshine Africa Tunza Watoto Center: An orphanage caring and supporting orphaned and vulnerable children from Nairobi’s slums and across Kenya with children aged between 4-14 years; A Center with elementary school for orphaned kids, and offering free vocational and occupational training for tenacee moteas and in and out of school out across Kenya; Tunza Watoto Advocacy Program: An education program, aimed at creating awareness of the Children’s Act 2005 laws to project children in Kenya and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with a primary focus to orphans, vulnerable and street children; Sanitary Towels Appeal Campaign: A nationwide campaign aiming at mobilizing and distributing sanitary towels, napkins, diapers to over 1,000,000 girls in rural and urban slums in Kenya who cannot afford them for the next 12 months; The EduAid Scholarship Program: An initiative that sponsor OVC children from poor backgrounds with school fees, school uniforms, back packs, books, stationery, and shoes; and Community Development Outreach Program: A program of engaging the community to address food and nutrition, health-care, water and sanitation, housing and psychosocial care, support and rehabilitation concerns.

What is the social context and juvenile delinquency situation in Kenya?

There is increasing incidents of Juvenile delinquents in Kenya due to a spike in societal breakdown in Kenya compounded by lose parental care over children, poverty and exposure with new lifestyles.

Children are coming in collision with the law for they are left free without parental guidance, or come from unstable, disorganized or disadvantaged family backgrounds.

Due to rising poverty more children are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, as most of the children from single parentage familias and those with parents are moving to cities in search of opportunity, even places that were until recently rural, are increasingly becoming urbanized and socially toxic and children are exposed new life, company already hardened peers, and media. Drugs, alcoholism and prostitution, that is freely available, is turning young children into delinquents. The many informal settlements or slums as we popularly call them in Kenya, where laws or organized way of life don’t really apply, is generating a high number of children, who are uncontrolled and in most cases finds themselves in the opposite sides of the laws.

There is lack of social systems and programs, sporting activities that can reorient the children away from petty crimes. Kenya judicial and correctional services, has not properly tailored rehabilitative program’s that can have a feel good effect on a child who finds herself on the wrong side of the law. Application of the existing laws is so general.

Nowadays, what are the biggest risk factors for the happening of crimes connected to young people in Kenya? How does your organization try to reduce those factor risks?

The greatest and foremost factor is poverty , abandonment and destitution. AID Kenya Foundation has taken preventive and humanitarian measures like co-founding the Wanalea Children’s Home, to care, support and educate orphaned and vulnerable children from Nairobi’s urban slums, and rural Kenya that would be in the street today or would have become teenage mothers by now or would have been sexually and physically abused or been in child labour.

There is a strategic plan in the next 10 years, the Foundation in partnership with collaborative partners and well wishers, will establish three more children Centers, with the next one, Kitutu Community Resource Center coming by the close of this year. Also, the Foster Parent Support Program for Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (Adopt-A-Child Project) will be expanded to more child beneficiaries in the slums and in the rural Kenya.

Lastly, the ‘’Tunza Watoto Advocacy Program’’, is educating the society to treat children with humanity. There are greater plans to aggressively take the program forward, with inclusion of legal aid, as we build consensus and mobilize towards the same.

How often are street children seen as criminals by the police and the general population, eventually becoming victims of various forms of violence and discrimination? How the police deal with children who commit a crime?

More often, street children are seen to be criminals, not only by the polic or law enforcement officers, but by the general public. Since the street children do not have proper shelter-they are merely seen as street gangs or drug peddlers- they are always dirty, and openly begging for food or money, so everyone generally think that they are thieves or generally bad elements.

If you take for example the streets of Nairobi, mostly, 7/10 ten members of the public view the street children are thieves, or muggers or whatever, ready to snatch you a cell phone or a bag. So they are highly discriminated and no one takes the trouble to know why are the children in the street in the first place or why are they not in school when we even have partial free primary education?

Poverty is the reason the children are out, social breakdown, and family abandonment or you may get the child is orphaned or from a single mother, whom the child cant trace the whereabouts the next of kin doesn’t care.

Normally, the regular Police or the City Council ‘Askaris’, round them up into tracks and take them to police cells or to City Council Parallel courts where they get no legal aid or support. In most cases, they are taken straight to Children Remand Homes,that are poorly run, congested and no proper rehabilitative programmes are run there. The next day or two the same children are back in the street!

Can you explain the current legislation in force for the penal law on minors in conflict with law in Kenya? How the Convention on the Rights of Child is applied?

Laws are selectively and partially enforced with no regard that the children’s rights in mind. The system rarely differentiates a child and a adult, and mostly children are not given fair hearings.

The Convention, is applied mainly through the Children’s Act 2005 Laws of Kenya and some of key articles enshrined in the New Constitution which is slowly being implement.

Concerning free legal assistance for children in conflict with the law, how the youth justice system in Kenya comply it?

In most cases rarely do the children get free legal aid. A few entities in Kenya fight for the children. And due to lack of sufficient resources, their impact is not felt fully. Though the Government’s Children’s Courts, do provide legal support, in the form of children’s officers and when the children or underage offenders commit crimes, they are subjected to probation and rehabilitation, that is normally not enforceable and implemented to the letter.

How does the imprisonment system for children works in Kenya. Is it regulated the separation between children and adults in different wings?

Normally, in Kenya, when children are in conflict with the law especially criminal issues, the judicial regime does not in most cases differentiate children under age 18 years and adults. If you go to Police Cells, where all cases are first reported, children and adults are put in the same cell, that is most congested. A windowless and unventilated room designed for 15 to 20 people, can hold over 50 to 80 people at a time.

This is where abuse begins from. Then it’s the same when in remand or imprisoned. This goes against the spirit of the New Constitution that states: ’’ A person who is detained, held in custody or imprisoned under the law, retains all the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights, except to the extent that any particular right or a fundamental freedom is clearly incompatible with the fact that the person is detained, held in custody or imprisoned.

Further, the Constitution, states that:’’ Every child has a right; not to be detained, except as a measure of last resort, and when detained, to be held-for the shortest appropriate period of time; and separate from adults and in conditions that take account of the child’s sex and age.

But all this is just on paper!

Which are the measures that the Kenya government is taking to resolve the delinquency problem and reintegrate these children? What kind of approach is being taken in order to protect their rights?

The Kenya Government set up the Children’s Court, mostly to hear child care/ and social support to children under age 18, where parental neglect is involved. It also handles to some extent, cases involving children, criminal or otherwise.

The Government has assigns, through the order of the Court, mostly put the children, under probation, where they can be monitored, rehabilitated, and reintegrated back to school, or some form of vocational training. After the children are put on probation, nothing more is done to improve their lives, and this is where non state actors like AID Kenya Foundation, comes in handy to help such children.

For those who are on probation, rarely do they have even basic rights, and needs, like food, health care and proper shelter. Some are put in congested hostels that are poorly run. An no psychotherapy is conducted even to know why the children were really involved in crime.

What more do you think should be done for children in Kenya?

A network of rehabilitation centers, should be established across Kenya to rehabilitate children and youth; an in-and-out of school peer education program should be introduced and implemented through the school system, the media ,and social centres like Churches or community organizations; the enforcement of all laws regarding children, including the Children’s Act, The Constitution, which should be followed to the letter and allocation of additional budget by the state to project children; More involveet of the non state actors and the private sector to protecting children, for the are the future generation, and an example to the next generation.

Are we going to have less children in the street or who are on the opposite side of the law?

Not in the immediate and short term. Owing to the situation and prefferent status quo, and bureaucracy, and coupled with high increase of poverty and increasing single parentage family, we are not going to have less of the children in the streets and becoming delinquents. But increased advocacy from non-state actors and resource allocation to children issues will turn around realities.


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