Overtime, Kilifi has been grappling with a burgeoning caseload of early marriages and early pregnancies. Even as the county leadership and security teams are yet to figure out how to contend with the issue, another threat is emerging, in the form of motorbike riders.
The riders have been slowly but surely etching their names in the wrong books, leading the pack of child offenders. However, a few boda boda riders are intent on changing the narrative and have become ambassadors for children rights.
An initiative by Plan International (PI), a non-governmental organization operating in the area has been part of the turnaround, a move that has been hailed by the boda boda operators and parents alike, and has seen over 200 youth trained on upholding the rights of the child.
Boda boda riders started meeting in 2013, a time that would have seen them complete the training but lack of concern for the cause had several skip the initiative, with their ignorance paying off in their being branded criminals.
“It’s no surprise that we have been branded criminals. All this time we have not known or understood the law or children’s rights due to our own negligence”, says Michael Chitsuna, the group’s spokesperson.
“At first we didn’t find anything wrong with having sex with the young girls. Besides that was how we thought they were returning the numerous favours we did for them”, he added.
And while they were hard at it, (returning favours) pregnancy rates soared, with 200 cases reported in 2014 and another 186 in 2015 respectively.
With police arresting several offenders and others being sentenced to several years in prison, the training couldn’t have come at a better time for the few who escaped incarceration.
Chitsuna said the way most riders were falling prey of being arrested and prosecuted made those yet to be netted to rethink about the defilement monster and when the training started, they came to realize the urge for change.
He says riders in the area were educated on laws which protect children, their rights and issues of gender based violence and have now become child protectors in the places they live, be they in school or at home.
However the task is daunting as they have to contend with illiterate parents who have no inkling of law governing their children with others demanding for identification.
According to Abdallah Mwambogo, a member in the group, some parents are opposed to their sensitization efforts on the rights of children as they think they are meddling in their private affairs.
He goes on to reveal further trouble from parents who are well aware of their children’s activities but instead decline to give information since they benefit from the child abuse offenders.
According to Kilifi County coordinator of children affairs, Morris Tsuma, the trained group has become trainers and work close with volunteer children officers and the police for the success of their work.
“Members of this group who work closely with security organs have become useful and reliable source of information, unlike before when they were abusers of children”, he said.
Amir Makarani, a beneficiary of the training says he has been sensitizing many people at his Kibarani rural home on issues of children rights and gender based violence and intends to visit schools to create awareness to pupils and emphasize on the importance of education.
“It’s time we worked closer with parents, teachers and the children themselves. This way, we shall be rid of the problem”, he says.
Plan International Regional Director, Roland Angerer said in a recent visit of the county that the initiative is a positive step in cleaning the boda boda sector’s name which has in the past been mucked by the vice.
“I’m glad that finally someone understands responsibility. They need to keep children out of the business and ensure that they stay in school too”, he told the press.
Angerer said that for the project to succeed, all players in the children sector ought to be focused and work together.
Plan International Country Director, Carol Sherman said during the visit that they have been watching Kilifi for quite some time and the fact that the riders have now become child protectors is a move that deserves plaudits.
“We have several child issues in Kilifi. The initiative to educate the motorbike riders is going to help us implement even more programs that will better children from here,” she said.
She held the hope that early marriages will eventually be stopped and have children realize the benefits of education.
“Kilifi is the first county to have the boda boda operators educated. I hope they will share what they learnt with others”, she said.
By Harrison Yeri/Joseph Tuva