Kenya at a glance

UNICEF Kenya Country Programme 2009-2013


Kenya at a glance

© Map courtesy of Kenya Government

Until December 2007, when violence broke out on a national scale following a disputed presidential election, Kenya was one of Africa’s success stories, a fledging democracy enjoying unprecedented economic growth with a booming tourism industry and a people full of optimism.

Kenya is strategically located in East Africa, bordering Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. It has more than 536 kilometres of the Indian Ocean coastline and its port serves its land-locked neighbours. Kenya’s population currently stands at 35.5 million, 75-80 per cent of whom live in the rural areas. Some 10 million people live in urban areas, with over three million residing in the capital city Nairobi. With over 50 per cent of the population below 15 years of age, Kenya faces a high dependency burden, which places pressing demands on social services including education and health care. 

Despite the steady growth of the economy, more than a half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, on less that one US dollar a day. The most vulnerable are families and children living in the urban slums, in the arid lands of northern Kenya and in areas of the country worst affected by HIV. These are also the areas with high child mortality and low enrollment in school.

Critical issues affecting children 

Laws and policies: In Kenya, national policies and legislation have been developed with key global priorities for children and women in mind. These include the Children Act that domesticates the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Free Primary Education that could enable the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal on education. The key challenge for some of the laws and policies, however, is their interpretation and implementation.

Poverty: Despite the impressive economic growth in the last two years, Kenya is among the world’s 30 poorest countries, ranking 152 out of 177 countries on the 2006 Human Development Index. Inequalities are wide with the top 10 per cent of Kenyans earning 44 per cent of the national income, whilst the bottom 10 per cent earns less than one per cent. Kenya’s poorest regions, including North Eastern Province, have twice the relative poverty headcount of its least poor regions. Years of drought in this region have had a serious impact on the well-being of children, increasing malnutrition rates, morbidity and mortality.

Child survival: The 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health survey showed deterioration in almost all health indicators. Under five mortality rates (U5MR) had risen from from110 to 115 per 1,000 live births over the previous four to five years. The same survey exposed major disparities across the country — with U5MR ranging from 54 per 1,000 live births in Central Province to 163 per 1,000 in North Eastern Province and 206 per 1,000 in Nyanza Province. Separate surveys also show high under five mortality rates in the informal settlements of Nairobi, rising to 245 per 1,000 live births in Embakasi and 186 in Kibera informal settlements.

Malnutrition continues to threaten a significant proportion of Kenyan children and women. The most recent countrywide data from 2005/06 shows that 33 per cent of children are stunted, six per cent are wasted and 20 per cent are underweight. National immunization coverage is at 76 per cent, far below the recommended 85 per cent. Wide disparities in immunization rates exist.  In the drought-prone North Eastern Province, for example, where access to health facilities is poor, measles vaccination coverage is only 37 per cent.

Access to safe water and sanitation facilities is also limited.  More than 15 million people – including more than half the rural population – are without access to safe water or sanitation facilities.

While malaria continues to be the biggest killer of children in Kenya, there was a 44 per cent in under-five deaths from malaria in the malaria endemic areas. This was achieved through effective treatment following a change in the drug policy from SP to combination therapy, the distribution of over 12 million insecticide-treated bed nets, and the use of preventive malaria treatment during pregnancy. Between 2002 and 2006 the percentage of children under five sleeping under a treated net increased from just four  to 52, while access to prompt and effective treatment rose from four per cent to 16 per cent.

HIV and AIDS: Life expectancy has reduced drastically from 63 in 1990 to 44 as a result of the impact of HIV and AIDs. However, prevalence rates have reduced significantly from 13.6 in 1997 to just under six per cent in 2006. The decline is attributed to several factors, including increased awareness and use of condoms, availability of anti-retroviral treatment and scale-up of prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Approximately 1.3 million Kenyans are currently living with HIV, including about 156,000 children. Despite rapidly expanded access to treatment in recent years, an estimated 140,000 adults still die annually due to AIDS-related illnesses. Out of an estimated 2.4 million orphans and vulnerable children in need of care and support, about 1.2 million are believed to be due to rising AIDS mortality. Latest estimates of incidence put the number of new HIV infections in the country between 236 and 397 per day.

© UNICEF Kenya/2009/d'Elbée
Kir, 5 year old Sudanese refugee at Dadaab camp in Kenya's North Eastern Province. She was playing at the Child friendly space provided by UNICEF support.

Education: Kenya introduced Free Primary Education in 2003, enabling many more children to enjoy their right to education. In 2008, the Government started meeting the tuition costs for secondary education. With a net enrolment rate of 86 per cent, Kenya is well on track to achieve the Millennium Declaration Goal of basic education for all children by 2015. However, 1.2 million children of school-going age are still not attending school in spite of the free education. And while gender parity has been virtually achieved at the national level, sharp regional disparities remain with about 80 per cent of girls in North Eastern Province not enrolled in school.

Child protection: Despite the existence of progressive laws to protect children, the level of violence against and abuse and exploitation of children is still high. An estimated 10,000 to 30,000 children have been caught up in commercial sex trade, mainly in the coastal towns.

Emergency: The humanitarian crisis in the country, following the displacement of more than 350,000 people in the post election violence has increased the vulnerability of affected children and their families. The violence has disrupted the children’s access to services such as health and education. Displaced children, especially those living in the camps for internally displaced people, are at risk of abuse and exploitation. The living conditions in the camps also expose the children, especially those under five years to malaria, cholera and other diseases.

UNICEF is working with the Government of Kenya and other development partners to leverage resources to ensure women and children have access to and utilize services that will advance their rights and to influence legal and policy reform.





Fast Facts

38.3 million

19.15 million

People living below the poverty line:

National HIV and AIDs prevalence (age 15-49):

Under 5 mortality rate:
74/1000 live births

Immunization coverage:

School enrolment:


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