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Kenya, 26 April 2017: Ensuring the safety and well-being of vulnerable children

By Johan Borgstam, Ambassador of Sweden to Kenya, and Werner Schultink, UNICEF Representative in Kenya

© UNICEF Kenya/2017/Serem
The Swedish Ambassador to Kenya, H. E. Johan Borgstam, and the UNICEF Kenya Representative, Werner Schultink, pose with staff from the Garissa Child Protection Unit and Department of Children’s Services, UNICEF and the Embassy of Sweden.

Violence. Neglect. Sexual exploitation. Child marriage. Female genital mutilation. As much as Kenya has made commendable progress in establishing mechanisms to protect children from different kinds of abuse, thousands of children still experience gross violations of their rights and are inadequately protected.

UNICEF and the Embassy of Sweden have just concluded a 680 km road trip from Nairobi via Garissa and Habaswein to Wajir to see the impact of the drought on children and families and also better understand how children can be protected from circumstances that threaten their right to survive and thrive.

The importance of engaging with children and young people directly, in order to stop violence against children, including ending female genital mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices, was witnessed during a dialogue with children in Habaswein, Wajir.

As a young girl testified during our visit: “After being educated about my rights I started to speak out against FGM – these days I am not afraid to talk about it with my parents and within my community.”

Persistent inequalities leave many more children and their families vulnerable to poverty and deprivation. The current drought that plagues big parts of the country further aggravates the situation. We learned that livestock in the area have started to succumb to the drought due to lack of pasture.


The national and county governments, in collaboration with donors and implementing partners, including UNICEF, are scaling up support schemes, but funds are insufficient. Big numbers of families are already in need of food assistance and the situation will worsen unless rain comes within the coming couple of weeks.

Devolved governments have made strides to improve infrastructure and service delivery, not least to mitigate the effects of recurring drought. In Habaswein, Wajir County, we visited one out of many boreholes put in place by the county government, providing water to the human population as well as their livestock.

UNICEF and Sweden are partnering with national and county governments in Kenya with a view to reducing vulnerabilities and deprivations for children through social protection, family social support and child protection services.

In 2004 the Government of Kenya, with the support of UNICEF, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and other international development partners, established the Cash Transfer Programme for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC).

What started out with 500 beneficiaries has now expanded to reach about 365,232 households with a monthly support of Kshs. 2,000. It might not seem as much, but to families living below the poverty line, the cash transfers enable them to meet their basic needs, particularly during this difficult drought emergency. 5,372 and 8,283 households in Garissa and Wajir counties respectively are benefitting from the programme.

© UNICEF Kenya/2017/Serem
88 year old Ebla Abdullahi Hussein, a beneficiary of the Older Persons Cash Transfer Programme, with her son, Abdikadir Barre Gure, at their home in Garissa County.

In times of an emergency such as the drought, children are particularly vulnerable to protection issues. Many get separated from their families as parents leave their homes in search of water and pasture, while others are forced to fend for themselves on the streets. There have also been reports of child marriage as desperate parents marry their girls off in exchange for food or livestock.

UNICEF and Sida have partnered to strengthen the Government model of child protection centres, ‘one stop’ facilities that offer comprehensive services to abused children; victims of parental neglect; trafficking; harmful practices such as female genital mutilation or child marriage; lost or abandoned children.

The child protection centres, led by the county-level Department of Children’s Services, are safe places where children and families receive shelter, counselling, parental education, legal support and referrals to medical, education or legal services as required. When we visited the Child Protection Centre in Garissa, we witnessed how children and families are educated on how to prevent and respond to violence through community outreach and awareness raising on child protection.


It is of crucial importance that child abuse issues are brought to the table in various social and political fora and that girls’ and women’s voices are captured in the debate. In both Garissa and Wajir counties, the prevalence of female genital mutilation is at 94 per cent (compared to 21 per cent national prevalence, Kenya Demographic Health Survey, 2014).

After listening to chiefs, elders, teachers and students of Habaswein, most of whom have courageously taken an official stance against FGM and cooperate in preventing further cases from happening, we are strengthened in our belief that new generations of girls can be saved from this illegal and extremely harmful practice.

UNICEF and Sweden will continue to work with the Government to build a stronger legal, policy framework and systems for child and social protection and expand social safety nets to reach the most vulnerable and leave no one behind. If we consolidate our efforts we can make a difference in the lives of boys and girls, to ensure they have a chance to fulfill their potential to the benefit of a better Kenya.



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