Street connected girls in Kenya

  • Johnson, Vicky (PI)
  • Johnson, Laura (CoI)

Project Details


Extreme poverty, increased rates of HIV, and high numbers of single (often female) headed households has forced many children and young people to live and work in the informal settlements in Nairobi.

Street connected girls face multiple risks living and working on the streets. They have often moved to escape abuse or neglect in dysfunctional families, but for many their wellbeing and the success of interventions rely on the support they receive from families and peers on the street. In order to understand the risks and vulnerabilities in their complex lives, street connected girls and their families need to be treated as active participants in research, so interventions take into account the discrimination they face and the support that helps them in their journeys from street into school.

Dr Vicky Johnson conducted participatory research with street connected girls and sought to understand strategies for their rehabilitation and reintegration through their life histories depicting their journeys to the street. A $34,978 grant from the UN Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI) enabled our researchers to collaborate with ChildHope UK, Pendekezo Letu, a child rights organisation in Kenya, and the Overseas Development Institute to engage girls from Kenya's slums across Nairobi. Comic Relief also contributed £4,680 for capacity building of our Kenyan partners so that they can continue to use participatory approaches in their ongoing research and intervention

As part of the study, Pendekezo Letu staff and a group of young people were trained by Dr Johnson as participatory researchers. In order to understand the complex lives of street connected girls and their families, participatory visual methods were developed such as safety mapping, rivers and roads of life, trees to show root causes, support and solutions to the girls’ problems, photo narratives, and evaluation matrices.

The team carried out group interviews on the streets and in schools with 200 girls connected to the street, and followed up with 48 girls and their families to create detailed case studies. We were able to gain an in-depth understanding of the physical, emotional and social effects on children living and working on the street, and determine how different social protection interventions can help these children to have more positive futures.

By working with policymakers from government and non-governmental organisations and academics in Kenya, the team also discussed how the evidence could inform longer term changes to policy and practice across Nairobi. By sharing with other international case studies funded by the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), the project can also inform a wider discourse on education for marginalised girls.

The aims of this research project were to:

> generate new knowledge and evidence on the causes of street connectedness and how to improve the lives of street-connected girls in Nairobi
> assess and share best practice on social protection interventions including rehabilitation and reintegration that address the rights of street-connected girls.

Research team:

Dr Vicky Johnson (Goldsmiths University, UK)

Laura Johnson (ChildHope UK)

Allan Kiwanaku for Phase 1 (ChildHope UK)

David Walker (Overseas Development Institute)

Boniface Okari Magati (Pendekezo Letu)


UN Girls’ Education Initiative

Comic Relief

Research partners

ChildHope UK

Overseas Development Institute

Pendekezo Letu in Nairobi

Researchers in Kenya
Social workers from Pendekezo Letu
Sarah Wanjiru Mbira, Magdalene Waithera Munuku, Esther Waithira Mwangi, Jane Gituthu Muthoni, Winnie Wanjiku Wanjiru, Job Ndirangu Nduhiu, Florence Koki Mwania

Young researchers from Universities in Nairobi
Abel Mayieka Dennis, Owour Victor Otieno, Mbatia Serah Faith Wanjiru, Warugu Purity Wanjiru, Mary Njeri King’ara, Silvester Kimari, Moses Ndung’u Chege, Brian Wanene Waiyaki, Waweru Joanne Njoki and Irene Ndulu Mully

Key findings

The research with street connected girls offered new insights into how vulnerabilities of girls and their families can be understood and informed rights-based interventions to improve intergenerational relationships and the girls’ wellbeing through a variety of social protection and child protection interventions.

> Pendekezo Letu’s (PKL) intervention is highly successful in reintegrating street connected girls that have some support from their caregivers, usually adult female members of their families, into education.
> The success of the intervention relies on a combination of behavioural change activities which promote the positive wellbeing of girls at an individual level, as well as economic strengthening for families.
> The PKL case study demonstrates the success of significant community involvement through the development of community-based child protection committees which undercuts myths concerning the unwillingness of community actors to engage in the protection of street children.
> Pendekezo Letu’s work with government agencies has been a positive experience and may lay the foundation for developing a more comprehensive child protection system which links alternative education, community child protection mechanisms and street-children.
> The intervention is less successful for girls facing high levels of risk (including drugs, alcoholism and extreme abuse). This suggests that more intensive interventions are needed to more support those most at risk.

From the evidence generated from over 200 street connected girls, a new understanding of vulnerability has made a positive contribution to Pendekezo Letu’s rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Their new theory of change, informed by the research, includes understanding the risks facing girls and their families and the level of support that children receive from their peers and street connected families. Previously, Pendekezo Letu offered a ten-month programme of rehabilitation for marginalised girls who were living and working on the streets while working with their mothers on income generation, however, the research showed that this approach only worked for some of the girls. A spectrum of risk and vulnerability was generated to help Pendekezo Letu to develop their programmes. In situations where children are living in poverty but have some level of family support, community-based child protection committees are being developed. Girls are not separated from their families but work with community members trained in child rights and with local chiefs, social workers, religious and community leaders, together with governmental and non-governmental services to ensure that girls can be supported in achieving a better quality of life, including being supported into education. Child clubs in school can also be useful in addressing child rights and helping girls who are street connected to integrate into and stay in school.

The research also showed that when girls are facing certain risks and are more vulnerable then they may need a safe and separate space while interventions are targeted at their family members who can then continue to support them. Rehabilitation for a period of months can give children access to one-to-one psychosocial support, counselling and life skills training while parents (often mothers) with HIV, AIDS or other debilitating illnesses or living in extreme poverty can be assisted to improve their health and wellbeing so they can better support their children.

Girls from severely dysfunctional families facing multiple risks, such as physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse or involvement with brewing and selling illicit brew, alcoholism and criminal activity, need additional support. Interventions included building on programmes that are working to advocate for street connected children in the criminal justice system, child rights training for the police and providing counselling and child rights training for abusive parents (often fathers).

The project highlighted the importance of involving street connected children as active participants in research while understanding their different vulnerabilities and the risks they face in the community; we learn from asking children and young people themselves about how we can understand their complex lives.

Key to success is developing an understanding about intergenerational relationships in order to break cycles of poverty and marginalisation. Interventions need to support street connected children while appreciating the importance of their relationships with peers, families and adults in their communities. Therefore, rights-based interventions need to be holistic to include care and protection of the most vulnerable and provide assistance to street connected families and marginalised communities.

In terms of research project impact, a new theory of change, based on vulnerability and risk, has been adopted by Kenyan research partner, Pendekezo Letu, to modify and build upon their interventions in education and wellbeing. Social workers are also using participatory visual methods developed in the UNGEI funded research to work with street connected girls and refer them to services.

The results will also contribute to a better understanding of best practice in working with street-connected girls. The findings will be disseminated at a national and international level in order to inform policy, practice and academic discourse on working with marginalised and street-connected children. Best practice and methodologies will be shared with ChildHope’s partners, and by the University of Brighton and ODI in academic and practitioner discourses worldwide.

In addition, the evidence generated by the research with street connected girls and their families has been used in a submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the development of their General Comment on children in street situations.

Johnson, V, Johnson, L, Magati, BO and Walker, D, Breaking intergenerational transmissions of poverty: Perspectives of street connected girls in Nairobi. In Murray, L and Robertson, S, Intergenerational Mobilities: Relationality, Age and Lifecourse, Farnham, Ashgate.

Johnson, V, Johnson, L, Kiwanuka, A, Magati, BO and Walker, D (2016) Case Study – The Role of Girl's Education in Pendekezo Letu's Interventions in Nairobi, New York, UNGEI.

Johnson, V et al (2016) Mitaani hadi shuleni: from street into school. Child centred research to understand the lives of street-connected girls in Nairobi. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the development of their General Comment on children in street situations

Johnson, V, Johnson, L, Kiwanuka, A, Magati, BO and Walker, D (2015) UNGEI Case Study Summary: The Role of Girls’ Education in Pendekezo Letu’s Interventions in Nairobi, New York, UNGEI.
Effective start/end date1/11/1430/06/15


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