In the early years of their life, Kenyan children face many difficulties that affect their growth and development. According to the 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, under-five mortality rose from 110 deaths per 1000 live births in 1998 to 115 in 2003. In addition, huge disparities in Infant mortality rates (IMR) were also observed countrywide from 54 per 1,000 live births in Central Province to 206 per 1,000 live births in Nyanza Province and 163 per 1,000 live births in North Eastern Province. These increases are largely as a result of a dysfunctional health system; the introduction of user fees at health centres; increasing poverty and poor governance; increasing mortality from malaria due to resistance to current drugs; and AIDS related deaths.
Once they are born, small children often lack appropriate health and nutrition so their growth is compromised. They suffer from malaria, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and high levels of malnutrition especially in the Northern areas of the country. Malaria remains the biggest killer of children. Averages of 93 child deaths are experienced every day. Only 58% of children under two are fully immunized and only 21% of births are registered. 2.8% of infants are exclusively breast-fed for the first 6 months. Many children are weaned prematurely and have inadequate complementary feeding coupled with poor childcare practices at home. The vicious cycle of poverty perpetuates inequity from generation to generation; the more impoverished the family, the more likely that the child will be malnourished. One in three children experiences stunted growth. (Source: State of the World Children, 2006).
In Kenya, a third of all new HIV cases every year are children. In addition, more than ten percent of Kenya’s fifteen million children are orphans. HIV/AIDS has claimed the lives of many parents, leaving in its wake a trail of over a million orphans. Statistics show that for every 10 children orphaned by AIDS, 3 to 4 will have died of HIV/AIDS by the time they are two years old. The capacity of families to care and protect orphans is overstretched. This, combined with the increasing levels of poverty, has resulted in many children heading their own households, living in institutional care or surviving on the streets. Death rates due to HIV/AIDS have also doubled in the last six years and the situation is unlikely to improve significantly in the near future. In Kenya, orphans are taken in mostly by the extended family, while a few children remain on their own. Child headed households are on the increase, especially in impoverished areas like North Eastern Province.
Many children, women and the elderly continue to be vulnerable. This is most evident in the rural areas where a combination of poverty, poor access to safe and clean drinking water and lack of adequate sanitation results in deaths from preventable diseases.
To reverse these negative trends that affect the wellbeing for children, the Government of Kenya is working with development partners, Non-Government organizations and Community Based Organizations to build the capacity of communities and to encourage the delivery of integrated services at community level.