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Feature: Access to education still a luxury for poor Kenyans

17 June 2015, 18:44

Nairobi - Queenter Atieno is playing with her mates at her grandmother's village in Kisumu County, western Kenya.

The 12-year-old never stepped in a classroom.

She has hearing impairment, but this is not the reason why she has stayed out of school. She lacks all guardians to sponsor her education after her parents died.

"I have yearned to go to school, but I don't have school fees and textbooks," she said.

Atieno lost her parents to HIV/AIDS at a tender age of three. She has been under the care of her ailing grandmother.

But Atieno is not the only child that has been deprived of education. She represents thousands of children, particularly in rural parts of the country who have been unable to access quality education, good health care, sanitation and shelter.

As Kenya joins other countries in celebrating the Day of the African Child on Tuesday, many children in the East African nation still lag behind in accessing quality education.

Majority are orphaned children languishing in poverty and cannot access education and other basic services.

According to the 2013 United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)'s report, about 5.3 million Kenyan children are deprived of education.

Most of the deprived children hail from poor regions like Turkana, Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, Kisumu, Migori and Homa Bay counties, among others.

"Children from these regions have resorted to fishing, pastoralism, gold mining, cane growing and other activities to raise money to buy food," Susan Jobando, a nutritional expert at the UNICEF Kisumu regional office, told Xinhua in an interview.

She said that accessing education poses a great challenge among poor families who survive on less than 1 U.S. dollar per day.

"It is very disheartening that children as young as eight years old drop out of school to venture into fishing to put food on the table. This is even as the government steps up to implement the free primary education policy in all the public schools," Jobando told Xinhua.

The aim of celebrating the day is to help raise awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.

Kisumu County Director of Education Sylvester Mulambe cautioned parents against child labor, saying it's against the law and those found culpable would be punished. But it does not work well.

"We have reports of parents sending their children to gold mines and cane growing areas. This is against the law and any parent found guilty shall be arrested and charged with child labour," Mulambe said.

A report released by the county government of Kisumu last year revealed that a number of parents are marrying off their daughters at tender ages in order to put food on the table. As a result, many girls are forced to drop out of schools because of early marriages and pregnancies.

"We need to change our morals if we are to promote the girl and boy child education. These youngsters are the future leaders of this country and we should strive hard to ensure that they excel in education," said Jennifer Kerre, Kisumu county chief executive in charge of education.

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- Xinhua

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