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You have to sleep with an eye open: Agony of street mothers



It’s 6:30 in the morning along Moi Avenue. I stare at a group of women sleeping along the shop corridors and doors, as a man holding a stick approaches. He randomly touches the sleeping women.

Among the homeless community, the man plays a crucial role of waking them up or raising the alarm whenever Nairobi county askaris arrive. He does so at a negotiable fee, one of the women I interviewed said.

Lucy Njeri, a single mother of two, says it’s a lot harder for women with young ones on the streets. They are more vulnerable to the lack of shelter, as well as insecurity and lack of food and medication for their young ones.

It has been an uphill task to bring up her young ones on the streets. They are aged one and three years old. Their survival depends on how well she can hawk sweets on the streets.

Njeri is just one of the many street families who are homeless and struggle to make ends meet. Nairobi Specials Programmes department estimates that there are 60,000 street families in Nairobi.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko launched an operation to flush them out by taking them to an orphanage and rehabilitation centres.

Human rights activists criticised the move, terming it unprecedented and a violation of human rights, considering there were reports of harassment and forcible separation of children from their parents.

Rebecca Kirema, another street mother of two, has struggled to survive for the past 10 years. One of her eldest sons was taken by well-wishers and just did KCPE.

Sexual harassment arises from both fellow street families and county officials. Rebecca says at night, you have to sleep with an eye open to protect your children from being manipulated.

“The street is a jungle, where you can only trust yourself when you have no family and friend,” she says.

Nairobians have decried the high numbers of street children on the CBD, associating them with a rise in insecurity.

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