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"Auntie (or Sisty/Mothey/Uncle) nisaidie na ten nikanunue chai." Does that sound familiar? Yes! That is that street urchin popularly known as 'chokora'. It has now become a common phenomena in urban centres to witness these glue sniffing filthy kids littered all over the place.

While the younger urchins beg money on the busy streets, outside popular food joints and supermarkets, the older chokoras are out there scavaging for wares and stealing from residents. They all over carrying sacks on their backs collecting plastics, cartons and metals. We all tend to ignore and dismiss them whenever the come our way. But have you ever taken the pain to think about their case?

Have you thought about them as a people desperate for help? Do you ever see them as a timed bomb? These kids have eventually degenerated into street families. They have formed groups on the street for the purposes of protection and self-defense. Every evening, they all go to their “beggar masters” or to their parents who often take all the money they have earned throughout the day and spend it on alcohol or illegal substances. Most of these urchins are a security risk. They are oftenly engaged in petty theft or prostitution for economic survival. Criminals also use them as spies for their intended targets. They will gather vital information which these criminals use to hit their victims. They are also used by drug barons to transit drugs in their sacks disguising them as garbage. They do so in order to get money for glue or for supplementing their family income who in most cases send these kids out to beg.

Glue sniffing among the street families is meant to strengthen the in-group bond as well as acting as a shield to the discouraging environment they struggle to survive in. Glue puts the user in such a high that they forget their hunger and briefly escape from reality. It is not physically addictive, but children quickly develop a psychological dependence on it.

Unfortunately, it damages their brain, as it retards growth and kills brain cells. These inhalants cause various damaging psycho-biological effects to these kids. The sniffing of glue contributes to problems such as liver toxicity, renal failure, and death. The body’s Central Nervous System is the most affected system within the body of an inhalant user. Glue is a very debilitating substance because the deadly chemicals attack neurons as well as clog the respiratory system.

The presence of street families amongst us is an indicator that all is not right in the society. It is a sign that we have failed as a society. Street children represent a pertinent problem that plagues all our major towns in Kenya. Children runaway from their homes for a variety of reasons. Some may have faced traumatic experiences in their homes. Their parents may be abusive or have problems with alcoholism, poverty and unemployment. Some children leave home drawn by the glamour of the big cities, but the majority are out on the streets due to traumatic family situations.

Socio-economic influences have greatly contributed to the forced situation street children often find themselves in. The root cause that has been identified is poverty. Poverty has led to increased stresses in their former homes, which is sometimes manifested in forms of abuse. Most parents of these kids feel that they are incapable of raising a child and therefore end up mistreating them leading to them running away to the streets. Abandonment, neglect and abuse are also heavy determinants of this issue.

This means that it is upon us to work out solutions to this problem. It has not escaped my memory that the government budgeted sh.300m this financial year towards street families. Both the national and county governments should ultimately use this money address the poverty and abuse which is the key to subsequently offering a better future for street children.

They should work out programmes that identify the particular reasons why children end up living on the streets and then decide how to help them. They should categorize such reasons as either material (poor housing, poverty, hunger) or non-material (drugs, general overload, abuse and neglect). These governments should ensure that the children are able to access formal learning and those who are above 16 years of age are trained in vocational skills.

They should construct rehabilitation centers, schools and vocational training institutions to cater for these street families. They should also be assimilated into the NYS programmes and guided into the job market. The government should involve these children and their parents throughout the process of empowering solutions. They should involve psycho-social workers and other experts to support the families and children that may have challenges arising from their tough life on the streets.

Their recovery program should work with these parents when deciding on a situational basis, what families would receive material support in addition to emotional support. Workshops on commercial and technical skills should also be offered in order to give participants knowledge to succeed in legal informal market activities, as it is difficult to directly change the existence of unemployment. Thus their work should center on involving the entire family in the process. The family members should be empowered to command the skills and provided with sufficient resources to solve their own problems, so as to avoid creating dependency.

We should tackle the chokora challenge with the same zeal as that of the fight against illegal brews.

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