Thousands more children risk being attacked, raped or forced to witness horrific atrocities if peace talks continue to flounder and there is a resurgence of the violence that has swept across Kenya following the disputed January elections.
At least 150,000 children have been forced to flee their homes by the violence, and are now living in congested, makeshift camps, often without clean water, sanitation and schooling. Many are completely unprotected from abuse and exploitation.
"Children in Kenya have seen their own mothers and fathers murdered and their houses burnt" said Matt Wingate, Save the Children?s emergency specialist who has just returned from Kenya.
"Some have been raped, many beaten up. All are struggling with the trauma of what they have experienced", he continued. "The lives of hundreds of thousands of children have already been shattered. If fighting breaks out again, the toll will rise even higher and the chance of bringing desperately needed stability to children already affected will be lost. It also risks children once again being actively drawn into the violence."
Further displacement will put children at risk of being separated from their families and make them vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Even when they have found refuge in the camps, children, particularly girls, remain extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. There are recent reports from Nakuru of girls being taken out of the camp in the evenings.
As the March rainy season approaches, conditions in the camps look set to worsen. When the rains come, the makeshift shelters may not be strong enough to protect families from heavy downpour. Tens of thousands of children have dropped out of school, both in the camps and in other areas to which displaced communities have fled.
Wingate continued: "?Living conditions and sanitation are extremely bad in many of the camps, with few working toilets and some water shortages. Camps are already overcrowded - the 15,000 capacity ASK Showground camp in Eldoret already has 21,000 people crammed within it - and the situation could become critical if new conflict forces thousands more to flee."
The violence has already had a catastrophic affect on Kenya's economy, which has hit the country's poor population hardest, both rural and urban.
Wingate said: "Even where fields and property have not been destroyed, families are too afraid or unable to reach their crops, leaving them no way of earning money or feeding themselves. There have also been sharp increases in food costs, with families having to pay around 30% to 50% extra for their day's food. People can't get to markets, which is destroying the business of small traders. This economic paralysis is particularly dangerous for poor communities in Kenya, where many families are dependent on a single breadwinner to survive.
"The longer this violence continues and the more protracted the negotiations, the less it will be likely for Kenya's children to return to normal life. Even if an agreement is reached, it will not be easy for these families to return home. The areas from which they fled may still be hostile territory, and there is no guarantee that their lives are no longer at risk from those from whom they originally sought to escape."
"Many have nothing to return to. But it is equally fraught to move to new, unknown territory, where resources, such as water or accommodation and access to healthcare or schools, may be scarce."
"These peace negotiations must not be allowed to crumble. World leaders must urgently increase the pressure on all parties to come to an immediate resolution. If they don't, terror and violence will continue to dominate the lives of Kenya?s children."
Save the Children is calling on:
• All parties to find a resolution to the conflict as no individual or group will benefit from continued violence.
• The international community to continue to pressure all parties for an agreement in Kenya, as well as providing adequate funding to humanitarian agencies trying to cope with the immediate crisis as well as to mitigate the long-term impact of the violence.
• The UN or the EU to launch an international human rights investigation to ensure that there is no impunity for crimes committed during the crisis.
• The Kenyan government, police and all political leaders must ensure children are protected if conflict breaks out again, and must refrain from using and abusing children in violent political activities.