\In 2019, the government unveiled a new law to criminalise cash handouts to street children but also allocated money to build shelters for street children in a move to get them off the streets and rehabilitate them.
The Nile Post spoke to the State Minister in Charge of Youth and Children Affairs, Sarah Nyirabashitsi Mateke on this and much more.
The government criminalised the giving of handouts to street children. What happened to the programme of rehabilitating these children?
We have been affected by Covid-19 but the issue of street children is something that started long ago, it is not something that started now .This phenomenon started when there was war and that is when children started staying on the streets.
If you can recall right from the 1980s, that is when street children started coming on our streets. Of course this is something that is unacceptable, no one would love to see children on the street or living on the street .
Of late we have had children who have been brought to street especially coming from Karamoja and in one specific place and that is Napak [by some NGOs].
There had been a plan that was drawn by the Ministry of how to collect these children and be rehabilitated and taken back to their home.
Your ministry has for long decried the lack of enough funds for the resettlement of street children. How much money is allocated to the ministry?
We had budgeted for Shs 3.4 billion but we got less than that. The money was not released at once .Some money was released and I think it was less than Shs 1 billion to resettle some of the children on the streets.
This money was not specifically for Kampala because the ministry had drawn a plan for different towns like Mbale, Jinja, Masaka so that we can have all these children brought together and taken back to their homes after rehabilitation.
Covid-19 has also created a very big problem for the parents and at times, they are losing hope but I am encouraging them that they should not lose hope and we believe with time we shall clean up our streets.
In 2019 NBS TV carried out an investigation on how Karamoja teenage girls were being trafficked to Kampala. Is it true that some NGOs have turned street children into a business?
We were told that there are some people who bring those [children] as a way of trade, this is really unacceptable and as a ministry we are encouraged to work together as a family.
I believe whoever is doing that, if caught, should know that the law will take its course. Much as slave trade ended, some people still believe in selling other people’s children.
As I have told you, it all comes back to the issue of parenting and valuing our families. These children that we are not taking care of, tomorrow, they will be a problem to us as parents.
How many rehabilitation and remand centres do we have in Uganda?
We have two types of institutions. We have remand homes and rehabilitation centres. The difference is that with remand homes, that is where children who have been in contact with the law are taken. Those are juveniles and these are children with certain cases.
We have a remand home in Kabale, we have a remand home in Naguru just here in Kampala, we have a remand home in Mbale, we have a remand home in Gulu, we have a remand home in Arua, and we have a remand home in Fort Portal.
At the moment as the Ministry, we have three rehabilitation centres, the rest are all remand centres.
How is the government addressing children’s education needs for those who are under your control to realize their potential?
After collecting these children together, what we do is to take them to our training institutions and give them different skills and show them the values that they can still develop from their homes other than running back to the streets.
We teach them income generating activities ,we teach them different skills for example those who want to do tailoring ,those who want to carry out farming and after that we are able to make them meet with their families.
What plan do you have for the street children who have clocked 18 years of age and how many children have you reunited with their families?
I don’t have full data at the moment. According to the constitution when you reach 18 years, you are no longer a child, you are an adult but a child remains a child, even me at my age my father still calls me a child .
It is you as a parent to know that if you look after a child well, he or she will respect you.
Are there some challenges that you have encountered so far as you carry on with your duties?
Yes,we feel if we get enough funds, we can resettle these children back to their homes after through screening and rehabilitation. We are not looking at only street children in Kampala, we are looking at even other towns as I have told you .
Almost all these growing towns, you will find there street children and especially when you go to these border towns because some of these street children are coming from other countries and they come and settle on our streets.
We believe that if we get funds, we will be able to assist the local governments because this is the responsibility of local governments who are supposed to be basically taking care of these children and see how we can rehabilitate them.
The biggest challenges that we have is the children with special needs and in our rehabilitation centres. The biggest challenge we have is tracing their families and relatives especially for the children that were abandoned at a very early stage.