'Rehabilitation': A critical examination of the disciplining of street-connected girls in Mombasa, Kenya within a charitable children's institution
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In Mombasa, Kenya government officials, public figures, NGOs and wananchis (civil society) often decry the presence of street children, viewing them as both criminal and therefore as in need of discipline and reform, and as limited rights-bearing citizens deserving of education and a ‘work-free’ childhood. To address this social concern, charitable children’s institutions (CCIs), operating under the Children’s Act (2010) are granted authority by the Government of Kenya to remove and relocate children from urban spaces by institutionalizing them under the premise of ‘rehabilitation’. Despite widespread critique, the practice of institutionalizing street-connected girls in Mombasa, Kenya remains common, with few studies examining the longitudinal and gendered effects of such schemes within the current era of rights-based ‘development’. With attention to spatial, historical and sociopolitical specificity, I explore the complex, shifting and historically-situated relationship between the Wema Centre and the women who, as street-connected young girls, became the targets of ‘rehabilitation’ schemes aimed at their own transformation. Situating such programmes contextually within colonial histories of power, I use Foucault’s concept of ‘disciplinary power’ (1979) to unpack the aims and practices of the Wema Centre’s ‘rehabilitation’ scheme to analyze how and through what means the Centre desires to transform street-connected girls. In reflecting on their experiences of institutionalization, ‘graduates’, who have spent on average 11.2 years of their lives institutionalized, recognize various ways in which they have benefited from the CCI’s intervention. However, in being confronted with significant challenges that ‘rehabilitation’ does not address, they also articulate strong demands for change to the ways in which the Wema Centre operates, while continuing to devise their own strategies of managing the difficulties they face on the “outside” and upon exiting care. In this thesis, I draw together my findings in a way that presents the Wema Centre’s ‘rehabilitation’ scheme as it both: 1) trains street-connected girls in gendered, useful ways in order to create ‘ideal’ Kenyan women necessary to sustaining the social reproduction of the conditions of production within neoliberal patriarchal capitalism, and 2) depoliticizes the conditions in which poverty arises by leaving political-economic questions unexamined, allowing the Wema Centre to sustain itself within the development apparatus.