In Nairobi, 200 idle children arrested in bars as adults fight over teacher pay

Kenya's teachers are demanding that a pay raise from 16 years ago gets implemented. Kids are not in class, and parents are angry. 

Noor Khamis/REUTERS
Children work on their teacher's table inside a classroom as a nationwide strike, by Kenyan teachers demanding a salary increase, left most of the country's learning institutions paralyzed in Nairobi June 25, 2013.

A bitter, three week teachers pay strike in Kenya that has preoccupied the nation now shows some unfortunate side effects as hordes of school age children were arrested in bars and hangouts in downtown Nairobi where they were drinking, smoking, and dancing, according to police reports.

Since June 25, the strike has paralyzed learning in Kenya’s 19,000 public primary schools and 5,200 high schools and left students idle.

While the unions and the government have been at loggerheads over pay, it seems the kids, or at least some of them, have gone a little wild.

Nairobi authorities swept into bars and “reggae music discotheques,” as Nairobi police chief Patrick Oduma put it, after citizens complained that downtown bars were full of school age children and that some were harassing ordinary people.

"To our surprise we found there is a very big number of under-age children [drinking]," Mr. Oduma said, adding that, "We have arrested the bar operators although we are yet to get the owners."

Initial florid reports of some 1,000 children arrested were exaggerated, police authorities told the Monitor. But in recent days they did arrest some 170 boys and 35 girls.

“We arraigned some [of those drinking] in the children’s court. We set others free,” says Benson Kibui, the police commandant for Nairobi county.

Teacher union and government officials are both using the shocking report of children in bars to accuse each other over differences about a pay strike that, while it started last month, has its roots in a promised pay raise dating to 1997, but that has never taken place. 

Meanwhile, parents groups have grown angrier at the delay.

Musau Ndunda, secretary general of Kenya’s National Association of Parents in Nairobi, urged the government and the union to immediately agree on a pay deal.

“We cannot continue sacrificing our children’s future through persistent teachers strikes,” Mr. Ndunda said. “They must agree to end the problem once and for all. We have gone around the country and all children are idle. That’s why they are doing these kinds of things [hanging out, and drinking]. I think it’s worse than the government thinks.”

Kenya’s main teacher’s union, which represents about 270,000 teachers, most of them elementary level, is insisting on a $587.5 million pay-raise that the administration of president Daniel arap Moi agreed to 16 years ago. The agreement grants greater housing, medical and commuter benefits.

In Kenya, the best paid high school teachers earn some $1363 per month, while an entering elementary teacher earns about $212.

On Monday the teacher’s union rejected a more than $200 million offer by the government, saying it was not serious and left out most of their demands.

The teacher pay issue has rankled parts of the Kenyan education community, coming at a time when newly elected Kenyan parliamentarians have voted themselves new luxury car perks worth $60,000 each, and amid a grandly promoted education program by new president Uhuru Kenyatta that aims to give every new elementary school student a free lap-top, starting next year. 

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