Feb 2, 2012

Are Children in rehabilitation schools learning?

Ten years have passed since Kabete secondary approved school was unceremonious abolished. Questions are still being asked as to why the school was done away with despite its benefits to thousands of children mainly from the streets.

Kabete was the only approved school providing secondary education for boys. The institution has since been turned into a children rehabilitation center providing elementary level of education.

The school got abolished barely ten years after being established through the now repealed Children and Young Persons Act of 1991. Besides Kabete, there are eight more centers across Kenya with just two for girls.

Latest figures put children in these centers at about 700. Four thousand more are in custody of juvenile remand homes waiting for their turn to join rehabilitation schools.

There are 11 juvenile remand homes (under the administration of the Children’s Department) in Kenya. These homes host homeless, abandoned or orphaned children and those with serious criminal offenses.

According to the Children Act 2001, juvenile courts are mandated to determine cases for children with both criminal and discipline problems. Those above fifteen are committed to borstal institutions which are under the prisons department. On the other hand, those below fifteen years with discipline problems are committed to rehabilitation schools for three years.

In rehabilitation schools, they are required to cover primary school curriculum but only a lucky few get to sit for KCPE. That is if they are retained for the full three years.

Philip Wapopa a manager at the Kabete center says that children in custody are equipped with technical skills besides school curriculum. “We have enough teachers qualified enough to teach them and to reform their behaviors.”

As a person who has worked for the department for over ten years, he reckons that three years is not enough to rehabilitate any child. “Initially, we used to be rehabilitated them until the age of eighteen.” He says.

He hopes that policy adjustments will be considered to do away with the three years limit and to mandate the department of children to resume providing secondary education.

Anactard Naam is a beneficiary of Kabete approved school. He grew without a father to look up to and his mother was destitute. In 1993 when he was just ten, he dropped out of school to help his mother at home.

A few years later when approved school had just come to his rescue, his mother passed on. He however remained in custody until his O-levels. “Had I been released out Kabete before my form four, I wouldn’t have become a career hotelier I am today. Secondary education is essential,” he charges.

Now a journalist at NTV, Simon Kigamba reminisces how approved school made him who he is today. He says that the school couldn’t have come at a better time in his life than in 1999 when he had no hope for education.

However after joining Likoni approved school in 1999, he made it upon himself to turn his life around for the better. He was later transferred to Kabete approved school to join form one.

Simon had to put up with many difficult conditions that prevailed during his time with a goal to make it in life. In 2004, his prayers were answered when he scored high grades in KCSE to make it to University.

He now wonders how it can be assumed that the poor children are being rehabilitated when nobody really cares about their future. “The act needs to be amended. The three years limit has to be done away with and secondary education must resume if those kids are to be helped.” He says.

Another beneficiary Boniface Lele never imagined that he could come from the streets and be a responsible man he is today. “I was in the streets because of poverty.” He remarks as he gets deeply disturbed remembering his ordeal in the streets.

“It is unfortunate that our country still has children roaming streets in this century.” He regrets and says that streets are no place for any human being especially a child.

Boniface however expresses optimism. “My life got changed at approved school because I got educated. The same can also be extended to our brothers and sisters from the streets in those rehabilitation schools and not just a token of it.”

Despite this outcry, Ahmed Hassan insists that the role of providing secondary education belongs to the ministry of education. He reiterates that the department of children which he directs can only follow existing laws.

Norkiso Owino however does not entertain the director’s remarks. The former approved school student currently pursuing his master’s degree rubbishes section 53 of the Children’s Act as draconian.

He adds that if the government was interested in helping destitute children, it wouldn’t have repealed the approved school section of the old law.

“What is the point of giving orphans and street children so much hope only to take it away after three years?” He laments and recommends urgent amendment to the act to remove the three years limitation and provide secondary education to compliment the technical training they receive.

Meanwhile, the number of street children in Nairobi seems to be swelling. It is suspected that the difficult economic conditions may be a major contribution to this.

These could as well be children released from rehabilitation schools after serving their maximum term of three years. The ministry of gender and children will need to move quickly and address these weighty concerns.

By Duke Mwancha

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