NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Children displaced in the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 elections are too poor to attend school and are turning to sex work to survive, a senior United Nations expert said this week.
Some children are living on the streets while others remain in battered tents issued to their families six years ago, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), Chaloka Beyani said at a press conference at the end of a nine-day visit to Kenya.
More than 660,000 people were chased from their homes and 1,200 died in violence that erupted after Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections, fuelled by historical grievances between ethnic communities.
Kenya’s government has bought land to resettle some IDPs and given others cash. But the programme has been plagued by corruption and inefficiency.
"Many IDP [internally displaced] girls, for example … were being exploited sexually because they have no basic livelihood," Beyani told Thomson Reuters Foundation after the press conference.
"There is no space for them to farm at all. So they find their own livelihoods in terms of going into the town and doing what they have to do."
Beyani visited three IDP sites around Gilgil, 120 km (80 miles) northwest of the capital, Nairobi, to see whether conditions had improved since his last visit in 2011.
"Basically, no improvement has been made," he said. "The IDPs still live in tattered camps without access to adequate food and services. They are cramped in the tents in which they live."
Children living in the camps and on the street are not going to school. While primary education is nominally free in Kenya, parents have to contribute to equipment, like desks and books, as well as paying for uniforms.
"Most IDP families can’t afford that and that effectively bars their children from going to school," he said. "A whole generation is just lost in terms of their future and in terms of their education."
In addition, the schools were too far away for young children to walk to and the journey was impossible when it rained.
"It is important in the course of resettling IDPs to make sure that the land on which they are resettled is in close proximity to a school," said Nina Schrepfer, a legal adviser with the U.N.’s refugee agency who travelled with Beyani.
Beyani said the government’s resettlement plan was flawed from the outset. It assumed that all of the displaced were farmers who needed land, while some were businesspeople or town dwellers.
In addition, land is expensive and scarce in Kenya and transactions are often tainted by corruption. There have been reports of corruption around the process of buying land for IDPs and of payments being made to ‘fake’ IDPs.
"The methodology that was adopted throughout missed the point," Beyani said. "What should have been done would have been to profile to the specific needs of IDPs… consult with them, let them participate in the decisions."
Beyani met around 150 IDPs who had returned to Mawingu, one of the main camps in the area, because they could not farm or find work at the resettlement site that the government had taken them to.
In another site, around 200 elderly IDPs had clubbed together to buy land but there is a legal dispute over its ownership.
"They live in tents," said Beyani. "There was an attempt by some civil society organisations to build houses for them but that project was stopped because the owner of the land went to court to issue a restraining order."
He said the government should carry out a verification exercise to know how many IDPs there are in Kenya. Compensation was paid to many of the IDPs living in camps, but those who sought refuge elsewhere, such as with relatives, were not registered and missed out.
Displacement is a recurrent problem in Kenya, caused by political violence, inter-ethnic clashes, evictions and natural disasters.