Mental Health; Focus on Juvenile Centers

By: Njeri Olive

We are at a place in our lives where everything we do has to be calculated. The pandemic has put most people in a state where they have no income and they would do anything to make ends meet. On the flip side, others are lucky with booming businesses and dreams coming true.

Group based games and exercises

Because of their vulnerability, Children are not left out either. They are not accustomed to staying at home and not interacting with people. Children should move around, play games, ride their bicycles, create crafts, but all that is different now. Circumstances and hardships based on family background, societal influences and financial status have made some of these children mature faster than their ages. As much as parents play a major role in their lives, the children have had to take responsibilities at a very early age. 

Teenage and adolescent stage is very crucial for development and getting to understand individual abilities, strengths and weaknesses. It calls for utmost parental guidance, understanding, empathy and care. It is at this age where the young souls become more aware of their emotions, puberty changes and social influences around them.

Our Kenyan Juvenile centers, Borstal Institutions and Youth Correctional Centers, hold 16-19 year old teenagers. Has anyone ever sat down to find out what they are doing in prison? I have worked with girls in one of the Juvenile Centers who have so much love to give; girls with big dreams and visions. Girls in need of love and affection. 

With regards to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, most of these teenage girls lack basic needs and others a sense of safety and security and it all boils down to inadequate love and belonging. These are some of the things we tackle as we interact with them. A huge number of these girls go through parental negligence, peer pressure with the denominator being poverty. To fulfill their basic needs, these girls turn to sex work, drug peddling and other unlawful means. As much as adults should be the protectors and guardians to these teenagers, some have seen an opportunity to exploit them worsening the situation.

Their street-smartness can get them to do anything to support their new found habits. During this COVID-19 pandemic, teenage pregnancies are on the rise and everyone is worried that children are no longer safe.

Dancing exercises for mental wellness

Our focus today is on the beautiful and lovely girls in prison who have gone through sexual harassment and abuse before getting into prison. Most of the victims claim that the abuse was inflicted by close family members including their biological fathers who are supposed to protect them. As the young girls try to overcome the emotional and physical trauma inflicted on them, it is likely they will turn to more self-harming behavior like drug abuse, truancy or sex work since everything valuable has been taken away from them. It is painful that when these teenage girls are arrested and sentenced to prison, the community is quick to brandish their names and point fingers.

I am glad that life always gives us a second chance. I have worked with Nafisika Trust for the last couple of years. We offer counselling sessions that help in the healing process for young girls in different rehabilitation centers. Additionally, we further train them in life skills. The training we offer helps the girls understand life and their role in the society. By learning to forgive themselves, these girls have found peace within and gradually, their lives are beginning to change for the better.

A Life skills and Baking graduating class

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