According to a recent study, child trafficking within the country is on the rise and many children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.
The study conducted by an organisation called Dwelling Places, says Karamoja region, especially Napak district, is the leading source of street children many of whom are lured to urban centres with the promise of a better life.
According to the report, Kampala has the highest number of street children, most of whom are other parts of Buganda and not Karamoja as generally perceived.
The findings were shared during a high level dialogue on ending child trafficking and unsafe migration along the Kampala-Napak corridor.
Out of eight (8) districts assessed, Napak leads to sending street children in urban centres most of whom are forced by gangs to raise money through begging.
Speaking during the dialogue, Dwelling Places Country Director Damon Wamara, said that there is a market in the district where children are auctioned for as low as Shs20,000.
“There is a market at Arapai, where the children are auctioned. All you need to go is to give them the type, colour and stature and someone will bring you that child for Shs20,000. That money is the cost of our children,” Wamara said.
Moses Binoga, the commissioner of Police in the ministry of internal affairs said over 17 cases were taken to court in Napak alone, 9 (nine of which) were convictions.
The study also shows that most street children have their parents and even close relatives. Members in the dialogue agreed that traditional upbringing of children has long been forgotten while most parents have forsaken their duties to children, which could be helping accelerate the problem.
Elizabeth Nakanda from the police family division said that most parents are using the excuse of too much work to abandon children.
“Parents no longer have time for these children, they say it is poverty that makes them work 24/7, but should you work and forget the person you are looking after?” she said.
As the leading destination of internally displaced children, Kampala Capital City Authority has committed to enforcing laws meant to crack down on the individuals that traffic and exploit these children.
Harriet Mudundo, the director Gender, Community services and Production in KCCA said that the Authority is in the process of developing an ordinance to strengthen enforcement to punish offenders involved in trafficking and keeping children illegally.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs through Moses Binoga early this year, accused bus transport companies of being among those responsible for child trafficking and the resultant increasing number of children on Kampala streets.
According to Binoga, despite efforts to curb the vice of child trafficking, they still have issues with transport companies and individuals who aid in commission of the crime of trafficking from various parts of the country.
“Last year alone, 87 children were intercepted in buses destined to Kampala before getting them off and returned them to their respective homes.”
Binoga however noted that the vice is not limited to only bus companies but added that taxi and lorry drivers are also part of the syndicate to traffic children to Kampala.
In response, Walter Walusimbi, the spokesperson for Y.Y coaches admitted that in the past the vice was common in their buses and others but noted this has greatly reduced.
According to a survey conducted by AfriChild Centre and the ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, Juvenile homes and rehabilitation homes have become torture chambers for children under their custody, this forces the children to hit the streets.
The report also adds that the perpetrators of violence include fellow children, caretakers, casual labourers and community members.
In some of the homes, the researchers found out that sexual violence such as sodomy by older boys, inappropriate touching and sexual abuse of girls by some male caretakers exists without knowledge of the authorities.
The report also noted that the homes also lack proper sanitation facilities, inadequate access to water, soap which exposes them to diarrhoea and cholera and leads to eventual death. The study also highlighted the lack of medical facilities.
Joyce Wanican, the Executive Director of AfriChild says that it’s surprising that the homes meant to reform children are instead feared by the children.
What has been done so far?
The number of street children in Uganda is rising, according to organisations working toward resettling the juveniles.
Kampala is receiving the bulk of these children – with Jinja and other major towns slowly catching up. The organizations claim government has failed to come up with deliberate policies to unite these children with their families.
George Ssekalala, the communications manager of African Hearts Community Organisation – a charitable organisation resettling street children told The Nile Post the number of children running to streets is rising – although this trend can easily be reversed.
As result, government through the State Minister for Karamoja, Eng.John Byabagambi in June this year wrote to the Inspector General of Police and Kampala Capital City Authority ordering them to start the crackdown on all street kids.
In the letter, Byabagambi said that the issue of street children in Kampala and neighboring towns is becoming a challenge and the need to crack the whip on them immediately.
“During a technical stakeholders meeting chaired by the then Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s office, Pius Bigirimana, held on March 28 2012, it was requested that that KCCA and police should halt operations to remove children from streets until reception centres are finished.”
According to the minister for Karamoja,two rehabilitation centres in Masulita, Wakiso district and Koblin in Moroto district have been refurbished and well equipped to handle the children before they are repatriated to their home areas.
Earlier, Government had ordered for the closure of over 500 illegal homes for street children all over the country.
Kampala Capital City Authority recently said they would start arresting people who offer money to street children as a way of discouraging the vice.
Why then do they keep rising?
There are currently no credible statistics on the number of street children in Uganda. Some sources have put the figure at about 10,000.
Poverty and lack of proper care from parents and guardians are cited as leading push factors for run-away children.
A 2014 Human Rights Watch report titled; “Where do you want us to go” concluded that children living on the streets in the capital, Kampala, and throughout Uganda’s urban centres face violence and discrimination by police, local government officials, their peers, and the communities in which they work and live.