As evening approaches, tens of children pour into the streets of major urban centres in the country.
They are in business. They carry packets of sweets or small containers with roasted groundnuts or chewing gum.
During school days, the business starts in the evening but during the weekends and school holidays, it begins in the morning.
The childrenâs target market is the large number of people walking to matatu stations after a dayâs work or those making their way into town.
Mr Peter Mukundi, a Nairobi resident says the children spot a potential customer from a distance.
âThey are very insistent. They will walk with you until you buy whatever they are offering. Most of the time, I give in out of sympathy or to avoid making a scene,â Mr Mukundi told the Saturday Nation.
While Nairobi is inundated by street children, most of those hawking items in the town centre have homes they return to late in the evening or at night when they are supposed to be safely tucked in their bed.
Anita Moraa is one of the city child hawkers.
She lives with her mother in a single room in Dandora. Moraa is only 10 and has three younger siblings.
Her mother, she says, is a domestic worker âwho does not make much from her jobâ.
âEvery evening after school, my brother and I come to the city centre to sell sweets. We give whatever we make to our mother to buy us food and clothes. She may also use the money to pay rent,â Moraa says.
The Standard Six pupil adds that she and her brother are under strict instructions from their mother not to spend a dime from what they get once they deduct matatu fare.
âI use Sh50 fare back home. My brother sits on my lap so he does not have to pay,â the girl says.
The two children usually arrive home around 11pm.
On some days, their mother picks them from the stage. When she cannot do that, they have to walk home alone, about 500 meters from the road.
The characters may be different, but the script is the same for most of the children found in town centres hawking various items.
These children are not safe in the streets.
They are at times insulted or shoved off by their would-be grown up customers. Many are also in danger of being sexually abused.
According to the law, every child has a right to live and be cared for by their parents or guardians.
This same law also stipulates that children need to be protected from economic exploitation as well as any work that is harmful to their health, physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Any situation where a child provides labour as an assistant to another person, for someone elseâs gain or an institution and whether with a contract or acting as an agent, is defined as child labour and could land one in court.
It is the duty of the the Department of Childrenâs Services, under the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services to respond to cases of child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
It should also intervene on behalf of any children in need of care and protection.
The law says it is the responsibility of the department to come to the assistance of a child who is in danger of imminent injury or harm by securing the transfer of such child to a place of safety.
The Saturday Nation contacted Childrenâs Services director Noah Sanganyi to find out if his office is aware of the situation in urban centres.
Mr Sanganyi directed us to Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani.
However, our calls to the minister went unanswered.
Mr Ken Munyua, a psychologist, says sending children to hawk while their parents and guardians wait for the returns is child abuse.
He adds that such a childâs growth and development are severely affected.
âImagine a 10-year-old child being repeatedly rejected or insulted by adults daily. This child might feel rejected and unloved, especially because he or she may have been pushed to the streets against their will.â Mr Munyua said.
âAs a result, these children may become defiant. They may believe they have to fight and use force to get what they want. With such a mentality, these negative experiences might push them into crime.â
Mr Dickens Ngicho, now in his 20s, started selling groundnuts in the streets when he was just eight.
âMy father had died the previous year and it was extremely difficult for my mother to meet our needs,â Mr Ngicho says.
âI chose to help my mother by hawking in evening after school while she sold ripe bananas and boiled maize in Majengo where we lived.â
Every day, after school, Ngicho would get the groundnuts from his mother and sell them in Shauri Moyo, Kariokor, Ziwani, Pumwani and nearby estates, ending up in the city centre.
âI would be assaulted by the owners of bars where I usually frequented. I went to bars because business was good there. When in the streets, I would be ignored or shooed away,â he says.
âLooking back, I did not feel like I was being exploited. I donât think I know how I was supposed to feel. I wasnât exposed to anything better. It felt normal because there were other children roaming the streets with items to sell. With the Sh15 my mother allowed me to keep daily, I was okay.â
Ngicho adds that he could not concentrate on his studies when he arrived at school in the morning as he was always tired.
âI was always dozing and rarely completed my homework,â he says.
âI did not disclose to my teachers the problems I was going through at home. I would instead come up with all manner of excuses on why I couldnât complete my homework.â
Mr Ngicho says he would arrive home close to midnight, worn out, and wake up before 6am to accompany his mother to the market.
âWhen she fell sick, I had to go to the market alone in the morning, prepare the groundnuts, rush to school and then sell them in the evening after classes,â he says.
The rule was that Ngicho and his siblings would have the groundnuts that remained as breakfast instead of bread.
âI got tired of eating peanut and so I had to make sure I sold everything,â he adds.
Mr Munyua says what such children grow through can motivate them to work hard in order to escape from poverty. Mr Ngicho is a journalist.
âIf these children can outgrow the street mentality, it can empower them,â he said.
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