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Sexual abuse part of life for Kenya's street children


August 28, 1996
Web posted at: 6:50 p.m. EDT (2250 GMT)

Editor's note: The first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children continued Wednesday in Sweden. The Nairobi bureau chief reports that sexual abuse of children starts among the very young in Kenya.

From Nairobi Bureau Chief Gary Strieker

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- On the streets of Kenya's capital, growing numbers of orphaned and abandoned children are victims of poverty and a breakdown of traditional family order, conditions that translate into graphic sexual abuse.

Some homeless children get food and shelter from private charities. But tens of thousands fend for themselves, the tragedies in their lives largely unheeded.


"Every kind of evil happens to them because people know nobody is looking and nobody cares," said Anne Wanjugu of the Shangilia Mtoto Center.

Sexual exploitation is a fact of life for them.

"They can't avoid sexual abuse because when they sleep, wherever they sleep, it's on the streets. Men can always get their own way there," according to Consolata Muthoni of the Rescue Dada Center.

For girls on the streets, as young as six or seven years, sexual abuse usually starts in gangs.

"When they are new on the streets, they are raped in order to be accepted as a member of the street gang," explained Irene Baumgartner of the Rescue Dada Center.


Solomon, now at the Shangilia Mtoto Center, spent years on the streets and witnessed such abuse, again and again.

"If a big guy (wants) sex, he (goes) to get some little one," Solomon said.


When girls are in short supply, the abusers often turn to boys. And in some cases, children with parents fare no better. One girl, sold to strangers for sex by her mother, can only cry bitterly when asked to talk about her experience.

After a short time on the streets, many girls graduate to prostitution, their customers looking for the youngest girls they can find.

Some veteran street girls such as Ziporah cope by trying to laugh off the sexual abuse as something -- as she puts it-- that disturbs a good night's sleep.

Only a handful of the many suffering children can be taken from the streets and cared for by private charities. One girl speaks of the new life she found in a hostel for street girls.

"I read, I eat and I pray, and nobody (is) abusing me," she said.

Social workers report growing evidence of organized commercial trafficking in street children for sex, but to date, Kenyan authorities have taken little notice. Until something is done, the exploitation continues for thousands of children who find themselves living on hard, dark streets.


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