In a rapidly urbanising world, the number of children living in informal settlements in urban areas is growing. The life that these children face can be characterised by chronic insecurity and precarious living conditions. But beyond the challenges are stories of adolescents’ resilience, optimism and coping mechanisms. Qualitative research in two informal urban settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, explores how adolescents perceive the risks in their community and the kinds of coping strategies they mobilise in order to manage and mitigate adversity and insecurity.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
Adolescent girls and boys live in fear
- Violence, and the fear of violence, is a marked feature of children’s lives; they are exposed to violence at all times, day and night, as they move around their community.
- Findings from this research support existing evidence on the gendered nature of violence against adolescents: girls are disproportionately exposed to and fear sexual violence and harassment, whilst boys are disproportionately exposed to physical attacks and are vulnerable to pressure to recruitment into gangs.
Harmful gender norms and stereotypes have negative consequences
- Girls reported deep-seated and persistent gender discrimination and strong expectations of their role in society. This impacts on their lives in terms of limiting their freedom of movement, their ability to choose how to spend their time or engage in hobbies. It also takes a huge toll on their psychosocial wellbeing.
- Boys also reported that they were discriminated against by the community and felt the consequences of stereotypes.
Adolescents have developed a range of coping mechanisms
- Social connections are key; many adolescents reported having someone to turn to for advice and support when they were going through difficult times. Peer connections were particularly valued.
- Adolescents develop uniquely personal strategies for coping with a challenging situation. However, violence and harmful gender norms can undermine adolescents’ abilities to exercise these absorptive resilience capacities.
- Adolescents have agency and the ability develop resilient strategies to adapt to adversity in urban slums. They demonstrated the ability to positively shape the world around them and participate in decision-making.