In their everyday life, children in Kibera face constant danger 

Children living in Kibra slum are exposed to risks that put their health in danger. Picture: Kevine N. Omtatah
Children living in Kibra slum are exposed to risks that put their health in danger. Picture: Kevine N. Omtatah

The birth of a child in any family is usually a celebration not only to the family members, relatives and friends but also the entire community where the child is regarded as a blessing from God.

However this is not the case for children living in Line Saba and Biashara streets in Kibra Constituency, Nairobi City County.

“Children here do not live, but rather they survive by the grace of God,” says Matilda, a mother of a two year old daughter.

Walking through the neighbourhood overcrowded with tin shacks, a visitor will come across heaps of rotting garbage that lies between the houses and drainage, with a stench of unbearable human waste.

Unaccompanied children will be found playing amidst trash, bucket baths, latrines and dirty sewage paths all day.

Many households dispose dirty waste water into already stagnant sewage that passes right in front of their houses for lack of organized solid water disposal or collection.

“Respiratory illnesses, cough, diarrhoea, skin rashes, malaria, dysentery, intestinal parasites are among the most frequently reported and diagnosed diseases among children in the slum,” says Grace Wasilwa, a nurse operating a private clinic in the neighbourhood.

Wasilwa says these are all linked with environmental conditions including poor sanitation and bacteria from informal drainage and faecal contamination of food and drinking water.

“Inadequate sanitation contributes to human waste frequently draining into the streets and walkways, increasing exposure to food borne pathogens and childhood diarrhoea,” explains Wasilwa. She adds: “Children often play on paths where human waste drains from toilets.”

According to Wasilwa, with limited access to point of washing hands, the residents are exposed to excreta-related pathogens such as worms in early life limits cognitive or brain development and lowers long-term diseases immunity.

She further notes that majority of these children’s mothers are single parents with very little or no education at all and limited income. “Despite venturing in numerous economic activities, most often they are not able to make enough for the family’s basic needs.

Mary Atieno a mother of four boys says poverty levels have led to an increase in insecurity and indignity among women, who for fear of getting raped prefer to defecate in plastic bags. She says some women restrict   the amount of water the children can take for security purposes to avoid their needing to use the toilet at night.

“Flying toilets are slowly coming back. These children defecate all over the place because they just copy from their parents,” says Atieno. She adds: “They suffer from chronic constipation and since using a toilet cost about KSh5 and a child might need to use the toilet several times during the day and this becomes costly for the parents who then just allow them to defecate all over the place.”

Flora Omondi, a community health worker says children living in the slums are in constant danger.

“Apart from danger of the sewer and garbage that they are exposed to, these children also play along the railway line which is most dangerous without any protection,” says Omondi.

Being a community worker, Omondi has been called upon on numerous occasions by teachers in various schools within the slum to help children who have developed different ailments and needed immediate medical care.

“Diarrhoea is most reported among these youngsters. I think it’s due to the environment they live in,” she says.

Omondi recalls: “Recently a child fainted and was rushed to one of the nearest health centres and it turned out she was dehydrated because the parents, for fear of insecurity, limited the amount of water she could take,” She notes that this is not a unique case and seems to be the way of living in most households.

The railway line has also endangered the lives of many children and adults. Omondi notes that some community members have petitioned responsible authorities to have the families relocated to much safer grounds where their lives will not be in constant danger.

“Nowadays we tend to be very attentive whenever the train passes by to ensure that no child will be run over. Most parents are normally out on their activities while children are left all alone,” says Omondi. She adds: “This is why I have mobilised all the adults around to always be on the look out to protect the children, “

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