Vivian (left) and her siblings on a lost children's parade at the Milimani High Court in Nairobi on March 18, 2015. PHOTO
At 13, most of her age-mates are sitting for the Standard Eight national exams but for Vivian Wambui, this is an impossible dream.
Her days are unpredictable as she goes about taking care of her three siblings in Nairobi Children's Home in Kabete.
Lack of parental love is the least of her worries among the many daily challenges Vivian and her siblings face.
And perhaps because she lacks exposure to the opportunities that education brings, her only dream is to become a salonist to fend for her brother Joseph Mwangi, eight, and Boniface Muchiri, six, as well as their two-year-old last-born Leah Valencia.
Vivian, as the eldest child, knows only that their parents have been gone for a long time but she cannot recall the exact date.
However, she vividly recalls the events just before their parents left them to their own devices.
She had just turned nine.
Their tribulations, she says, started after their father and two brothers abandoned them in Kayole, Nairobi.
Vivian says her father was unhappy with the way their mother, Caroline Mwende, treated her — beating her up for every small mistake.
She recounted her ordeal in the hands of her brutal mother while pointing to a head scar she claims remained after a wound she sustained in one of those caning incidents healed.
Weeks after their father left them, Vivian says they started living with a man called Alex, their first step-father.
Their baby sister, Leah, was born before they moved with their mother to Rongai and lived with a Mr John Okoth for what Vivian describes as "a long time".
From her account, they lost parental love and care on a Thursday, about four years ago.
Their mother was the first to leave home, then their second step-father, Mr Okoth.
“I cannot tell when mother left. Our second step-father stayed with us for a week after mother left. He told us she had gone to Maasailand and he was going to get her back home. We waited for them but they never returned,” she says.
New Life Children's Home Nurse Anzela Makokha (left) holds a newborn baby boy who had been dumped in a pit latrine in Nyalenda slums, Kisumu, on July 4, 2012. The baby was discovered by Ms Grace Anyango Ochieng (right), who heard him cry when she went outside in the morning. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Vivian adds that police arrested Mr Okoth within the estate for abandoning them, but he was released after denying having any blood relations with the four children.
“On the day it became official that our parents had left us, another woman took us in for a night from a police station where our landlady had taken us. We were told that courts do not operate the following day and we could not be left there. We went back the following day and then we were brought here, not this year, long time ago,” she says.
The teenager considers life in the rescue centre much better than their home as she recalls an incident in which Leah, the last-born, was burnt while begging for chips.
“One evening I asked our step-dad for money for food and he gave me. When I went to look for something to eat, I found Leah had been burnt with oil while begging for fries. The woman selling them told her to keep off since she had bigger problems to deal with,” she recalls.
After the attack, Vivian recalls, her mother was contacted by phone. She told their neighbours that she was herding cattle in Maasailand, and that they should not disturb her, the girl recalls
The woman had, however, promised to come and see them the following day and until today, that tomorrow has never come.
Neither Vivian nor her brothers go to school despite being old enough to start school.
“I was going to school but when mother started having kids I stopped because I was the one who used to babysit them. I would have been in Class Seven now but when I was about to join Class One, mother disappeared. I have never gone back to school. Joseph went to Baby Class in Rongai for a while,” she says.
She keeps quiet when asked about her future dream.
Vivian and her siblings are among a ballooning number of "lost" children who are paraded at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi once every two months in the hope of being identified and reunited with their families.
On one such day, April 12 , only two children out of the 46 from the rescue centre and four others fresh from police stations were picked up by their relatives.
Ms Emily Msegeti, a children’s welfare officer, says there has been a sharp rise in the number of abandoned children aged between two and eight, as well as those with special needs.
She says most of the minors taken to rescue centres as lost and found had been deliberately abandoned by their parents, some of whom later want them back after they have been raised and educated by others.
Lost children being cared for by the Children's Department are paraded at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi on February 18, 2015. Some parents abandon their children deliberately, it has emerged. FILE PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“It is sad that some of these children you see here were just left by their parents who are fully aware that they are here. They wait until they are grown-ups and then they come to reclaim them. When we get them, we can’t tell who got lost and who was abandoned,” she says.
Ms Msegeti recalls a 1990s case in which a woman came for a son she had abandoned at a tender age.
The boy, she says, was in Form Three and he completely refused to be reunited with the woman who claimed to be his mother even after a fruitless two years of persuasion.
Ms Jane Munuhe, another children's welfare officer, says the centre admits about 300 minors every year and about 180 are reunited while the rest are settled in registered children's homes.
Family feuds and poverty are some of the main factors fuelling child abandonment in Kenya, according to the officials.
Although the Children’s Act, which safeguards the right of every child, took effect on March 1, 2002, legal representation of the minors in court cases is rare.
NO LEGAL AID
Only a handful of lawyers are willing to fight for the rights of children without pay.
Most cases are taken up by non-governmental organisations that often drop out midway through the process.
Sometimes, the Law Society of Kenya takes up such matters.
“There is no state-paid legal aid system in Kenya as well as clear provisions on how this can be funded. Usually, courts assign pro bono lawyers to take up cases involving children. It is extremely hard for children who are victims,” Ms Msegeti says.
The Judiciary is alarmed by the increasing number of parents abandoning their children to the harsh and cruel realities of life.
Chief Registrar Anne Amadi says the Judiciary intends to increase the number of judges handling children-related matters.