Kenya goes into elections on 8th August 2017, a date stipulated in the Kenya Constitution 2010. An election is supposed to be a public tool which gives power to the elected persons to run the state affairs for an average period of five years. This is supposed to be a very powerful tool which the public can use to control and direct the use of public resources, the state security, economic stability and general good and conducive environment for the citizens to work and live in harmony. However, due to the deplorable living conditions and standards in the country, some politicians abuse this tool and right of the citizens through corruption and unfulfilled promises to swing their vote to the leaders who do not really make their living better. Kenya, having 44 ethnic groups as at July 2017, does not help much as the politicians seek to divide the citizens among tribal and ethnic lines to achieve their selfish gains in being elected to the various positions.
July, being the month preceding the elections, I talked to various groups of people ranging from children, youth and adults on the issues they felt were risks to children in this elective period. Surprisingly, the youth and the children I spoke to were more worried and anxious of the coming elections than the adults who are the voters. I found out that the main reason that they are worried as such is that they have no accurate information on what an election entails, what options the people have, and who is looking out for them.
The media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and television give brief information about the polls which in most cases leave the youth and children more confused on the details of the elections. This traumatizes them as they can’t make reasonable expectations of the candidates thus elected yet they are moving into being young adults who would be expected to participate in future elections.
Many of the youth confessed that they go to political rallies and that majority of the people used by politicians to do the political acrobatics are their fellow youth who are out to make a few coins which unfortunately end up being squandered into cheap drugs such as alcohol. Other risks facing the youth in this period were cited as physical abuse, drug abuse, illicit affairs which may lead to early marriages or unwanted pregnancies for girls, school drop outs and fear and anxiety over the election results.
For the children, negligence is the biggest risk as parents roam the counties and constituencies campaigning for their preferred candidates. The lucky few are left under the care of house helps but majority are left to fend for themselves or under the care of very elderly grandparents. This opens up a vulnerability where the children can be physically, sexually and emotionally abused by family members or strangers when left under no care. This may also lead to children getting lost, getting burnt in family houses, having poor health and others losing their lives.
Also, parents’ relocation to areas they feel are safer for the children during this period such as rural areas, destabilise the children’s education and way of live. I found that our partner school projects in Western Kenya for example had registered and increase of almost 10% of the total children population as parents relocated to cushion against any harmful events after the polls. Another risk is family break ups at this time which may lead to children having no one to provide for them while some end up being taken into institutions so as to survive.
The recommendations discussed to try and address some of the issues were:
- Guidance and counselling for the children and the youth under our care in projects, churches and other social gatherings.
- The youth would preach peace messages and good neighbourhood across the different ethnic divided.
- Project leaders would address parents when they have parent meetings to ensure their children are safe during this period.
- We all should be children protection ambassadors; every vulnerable child needs our protection regardless of whether am directly responsible for them or not. Children are a communal responsibility!
- Civil education on the voting process should be rolled out early enough the whole country to ensure youth and children are enlightened in time before the campaigns start.
- Parents should avoid tagging children along in political rallies to avoid physical harm. Also, get a responsible adult to take care of the children when they are not there.
- Spread positive energy, dwell on the hope giving aspects of the elections and cut out the negative bits.
Through all this, one thing stood out, PEACE! KENYA IS BIGGER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL, OUR FUTURE IS OUR CHILDREN, LET US PROTECT THEM EVERY DAY!
Post by Mary Mwangi, Partner Projects Officer