By Lilian Kaivilu
Protecting rights of street mothers
Often, street girls give birth in difficult circumstances and tracking the basic documentation such as birth certificates for their children can be tricky. In other cases, the paternity of these infants is complex. Plan International’s Child protection manager Mercy Chege explains the procedures that street mothers can follow to register their children…
In the case that a street girl is pregnant, what are her rights as an expectant woman, and how practical is it for her to enjoy these rights?
With the introduction of free maternity in government hospitals, girls and women would be able to enjoy maternal health care services in government hospitals, even those living or working on the streets. However, we know that the public health facilities are few, and the resources are limited. This will affect access to services for everyone, but more so for young girls living or working in the streets. So yes the pregnant street girls have the right to services, if they can get to the maternal health care facility, they are entitled to the services but they probably would have a challenge getting to the facility.
But is this practical?
The street girls too have a right to have their babies get immunised just like any other child. What the next step should be is to ensure there are social services available for them to sensitize them on the need to have their children immunised.
We have a new law on paternity. How will this work out on street girls who are in a sort of a complex marital arrangement?
The street girls should be able to benefit from the law. Every child has a right to identity and a name is identity. On the other hand fathers with children on the streets should be held accountable to provide child support. However, if the girl is raped, as happens very often in the streets, and can’t tell who the father is, or if they have multiple sexual partners on the streets, the law may not be effectively apply. The burden is on the girl to prove/ be sure they know who the father is and this too can be contested until further scientific processes like DNA testing are evoked.
Does Plan International have any specific programmes aimed at addressing the issues facing underage street mothers?
Currently Plan is not working with directly with street families but we do through our referral partners and the Department of Children Services. However we are working with adolescent girls in other difficult situations. With the girls in our programmes we facilitate re enrolment to school after pregnancy or even child marriage, vocational training, psychosocial support and family reunification especially for girls who were married off without their consent), child care training for adolescent mothers, life skills training, alternative placement- rescue or foster/ kinship care arrangement etc
What is the procedure of registering the children of these street mothers?
Every child has a right
to identity. They also have a right to access services like schools and hospitals. Without a birth certificate it becomes difficult for children to enroll in school or even get national IDs later in life. The adolescent street mother who gives birth in a hospital should follow the same process as anyone else to get a birth certificate for their child. Those giving birth on the street can notify the Chief as there is a chief around every corner of the country. They can also a children officer who acknowledges the birth and gives a letter that can be used to get a birth certificate. Unfortunately the girls may not know their rights, may not see the need to report births and deaths, and there is a generation of anonymous Kenyans out there who cannot enjoy full rights of citizenship because of birth registration difficulties.
You have a digital birth registration platform. Can the street mothers access this as well?
Yes, Plan International has this birth registration programme in several parts of the country and though it is a pilot, this is one strategy that can help women and girls in difficult circumstances. Once rolled out, all the girl needs to do is get help form the chief, children officer or anyone who has a mobile phone to register the birth.