Street families are a common sight in major towns in most African countries.
Hundreds of young people leave home to live on the streets for varied reasons such as poverty and dysfunctional family units.
But in the Kenyan town of Eldoret, some young people actually choose to live on the streets and there is a price they have to pay for that.
The girls for instance are taken through a sort of initiation rite during which charcoal mixed with oil is rubbed on their face and arms.
“When a new girl joins us as a member, she has to be initiated,” explained John Wafula, leader of the Eldoret street boys.
“We have our medicine which is a paint applied on the face. Whoever paints your face becomes your man. You are not expected to part ways with him because he initiated you,” he added.
The ceremony does not end with just the application of the ‘medicine’ John Wafula speaks of. It includes the girl having sex with the boy or man who initiated her.
Caroline Chemutai volunteered to join the so-called street family. She told Africanews: “When I … requested to join this group, he said I had to fulfill some conditions before I get accepted. Now that I am a member, I trust my man. I will stand by him in all challenges even when we lack where to sleep”.
Once the initiation ceremony is done and the pairing firmed up, the girl must go ahead to ‘consumate’ the relationship.
“If you do not co-operate, we gang-rape you. We treat you like a military truck that is used by all soldiers,” Wafula explained the punishment meted out to girls who decide not to finalise the process.
The pairing, apart from being sexual, is also meant to offer protection to the girls as living on the street could expose them to danger.
Alex Mania, one of the Eldoret Street Boys said he would “fight off” or “kill” any man he caught “messing with my woman”.
He explains that since he has initiated the girl, she becomes his own.
The police in Eldoret however say they have not had any complaint of rape from any member of the street family.
Divisional Police Commander for Eldoret East, Nelson Taliti told Africanews that “as far as I’m concerned we’ve never had any rape case being reported by street families and if it is happening maybe they conceal to the best reason known to themselves”.
The ladies who have gone through this process however do not see anything wrong with it since they consider it a small price to pay.