NAIROBI (dpa) - Josephine stares at her lap and wrings a handkerchief as she talks about the horrific events that sent her to live on the streets.
Last September, two men took her from her home in a Nairobi slum and raped her repeatedly for three days. She believes her step-father was in league with the attackers.
When she returned home, her step-father beat her and accused her of being a prostitute. "I was thinking that the street would be better than this life," Josephine said, recounting her grim story.
She ran away and quickly ended up at the Rescue Dada Centre, which provides a home for street girls in the eastern Nairobi neighbourhood of Pangani. Dada is the Swahili word for sister.
Rescue Dada Centre is providing Josephine and 60 other girls like her a place to live and basic education. The centre is also counselling Josephine and has sought legal assistance to pursue a criminal case against her step-father and the alleged rapists.
According to statistics from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), some 150,000 children in Nairobi spend all or part of the day on the streets. The number is believed to have increased in the past five years because of the deadly AIDS epidemic, which has left hundreds of thousands of Kenyan families without breadwinners and has orphaned thousands more children.
One in six street children is female, and girls are particularly vulnerable, said Maryalice Onyura, project coordinator of the Rescue Dada Centre.
"If they stay on the streets for a week, you can be sure they will be sexually abused by an older street boy. It's called initiation," Onyura reports.
Street children in Nairobi are also at risk from police, who in recent years have arrested children on the street more frequently as a result of complaints by business owners.
"Ninety per cent of them are not really criminals, but the police will always arrest them just because they want to clean up the streets," said Onyura. "Getting the police to round up the children is not getting to the root cause of the problem."
She says poverty is the primary cause. Parents may not be able to pay school fees, some children are sent to beg for money, while the most desperate hang around outside restaurants and eat garbage scraps.
The Rescue Dada Centre centre tries to prevent children from ending up on the streets by helping their parents. One programme gives small grants of 5,000 shillings (around 65 dollars) so parents can start businesses such as running tea stalls, styling hair or selling kerosene.
After staying in the centre, the girls are placed with extended family members - often in rural areas - who have agreed to take care of them.
The centre is one of several projects in Nairobi funded by the Kindernothilfe Stiftung (Children in Need Foundation), based in Duisberg, Germany. Its chairman, former German labour minister Norbert Bluem, recently paid a fact-finding visit in Kenya to see how the foundation's funds are being spent.
He also met with Kenyan child-rights organizations to learn about the issues they will be raising during the U.N. Summit on Children in September.
"People in Germany must not only be given statistics but they have to see the face of need," Bluem said in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Although he favours globalization and free markets, Bluem said these were not the solution to the problems of poverty. "One also needs basic standards of living which are valid all over the world."