Child-Headed Households and Educational Problems in Urban Informal Settlements in Kenya

Perpetua Gaciuki


The present study investigates the educational problems faced by child-headed households in

Urban settlements in Kenya. These households are a result of challenges such as parental deaths (mainly due to HIV and AIDS). Such households have become an increasingly common occurrence in Sub-Saharan Africa, as a result, in particular, of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This has caused millions of children to become orphaned, and has brought about new coping mechanisms. There has been considerable interest in Kenya’s progress with regard to the emergence of child headed families and this can be seen by way of the number of NGOs interested in this subject. Despite living under very pathetic and harsh conditions, orphans in CHHs have been known to develop unique resilience when their lives are changed radically.  They develop a continuum of coping strategies, which also include adopting ‘de facto’ adult roles.  Children take on new roles, acting as household heads, making household decisions even when parents are still living, and supporting their young brothers and sisters, at times suffering loss and peril themselves. Since Kenyan families are traditionally extended, the increase in the number of orphans puts pressure on relatives who have to fend for additional children. Child-headed household arrangements seem to represent a new coping mechanism for orphans in urban settlements in Kenya. Community-based organizations (CBOs) also help extended families to carry the burden of orphans. Using a qualitative research methodology and a case study design, the paper investigates the c educational problems faced by child-headed households in Kibera Slums, an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. A total of 50 children living in child headed household were identified through the chief’s office and the support organisations for orphans operating in the above villages. Ten key informants including social workers from organisation supporting these children, chiefs, teachers and children’s officers were also interviewed to give an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. Findings of the study revealed that HIV and AIDS coupled with the breakdown or weakening of the extended family network has led to the emergence of Child headed households. Children in these households were found to face challenges such as lack of parent’s love and affection, protection and care, Lack of basic necessities like food shelter and health care, social exclusion and stigmatization, disinheritance, exploitation abuse.

Keywords: Child Headed Households, Emerging Phenomenon, Urban Informal Settlement

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