This would pass for fiction especially in present day Uganda where slavery is only read about in the books of history.
But in the eastern district of Soroti, this is a daily occurrence with a special market set up for anyone who wants to buy Karamojong girls who later find themselves enslaved as victims of trafficking for either labour or sex; either way it remains a trade.
A young girl on the streets of Kampala reports on ‘duty’ very early in the morning to do the job she is hired to do, begging.
Her efforts to take back home money come from a whole day of consistent begging on cars waiting in traffic.
When I try to speak to her, she tells me this is the only job she was assigned to do and she reports back to her boss.
So they are just not begging to earn a living, they are hired to do the job with set targets.
Her comments on the money she collects in a day, trigger me to dig deeper to find out who is employing hundreds of street children, but first how do they get here in Kampala. I get information on the process.
The story leads me to Eastern Uganda, 295 KM away from the capital, Kampala.
Finally, I am at Arapai, a Soroti Suburb which hosts the second biggest Market in Eastern Uganda.
On the surface, Arapai market would go for any ordinary market with several merchandise which include clothing and grocery.
We are then told by our sources that it is in this market, that girls are paraded to be sold like commodities and merchandise. The Market is weekly and takes place every Thursday.
This is 24 hours earlier.
Looks like all is set for the big market day; Thursday.
What you see are local houses temporarily built to fit the market demands.
Busy, is the best description of the Arapai market.
At 7am, we set off to identify victims of the trade. While we are at it, a truck carrying merchandise and young girls leads our way to the market.
As they approach the market the truck stops and the girls disembark as we watch from a distance.
We don’t want to look like we are up to something. We lose them, but decide to join the market. Hard to find them but at last, my sources lead me to temporary structures we filmed the previous day.
Here rests a queue of young Karamajong girls lined up to be sold, like commodities.
Our attempts to buy two girls are futile. It is still too early.
We are asked to hold on for two reasons; first, the numbers are still low, and so we are not exposed to variety and the other is that the girls need to figure out what to eat or it will be a hungry day.
This is where their food for weeks is sorted.
Those who sell pork, expose the starving girls to whole plate of food; Pigs’ intestines.
As the traders slaughter pigs, the Karamojong girls settle for the intestines, making the principle of the early bird catches the worm a reality.
This goes on for a while, before the girls aged between 8 and 14 finally make their way back to the market.
They are now ready to bargain.
We brief them of their destinations, they look less interested on what exactly they are going to do.
They all hail from Napak, it is easy to survive here in Soroti because of the related language both Karamajongs and Itesots use.
I am curious to prove the claims on human trade.
One girl informs us that she trekked to Soroti from Moroto without her mother. A phone call to her mother will lead us to a settlement.
“Shs.40,000, ….. Shs.50,000…. Shs.70,000,” I bargain with the girl’s mother on what amount she should be sold off.
We don’t seem to agree.
Onto the second girl. As soon as I get cash out of my pockets, the mother to the second girl settles for Shs.50,000.
Having paid off, I move away with the girl. The mother is unbothered where her daughter is headed. But she rather settles for Shs 50,000 other than starve to death.
We don’t stop here. Our second target is not too far. A mother of three is ready to sell off her three children. We will only attempt to buy two.
She is hungry for money.
This might help her afford a decent meal for months.
Young Karamojong girls have been bought off, it is not a secret.
It is done in the open, under the watch eye of local authorities.
We ask the local police that should be charged with curbing child trafficking but all we get is a deaf ear.
But all this looks like a cover up, the district probation officers attached to ministry of Gender are aware of the trade.
The girls are picked from Karamoja region, concentrated in Napak, Moroto, Nakapirit and Kabong and moved to Soroti using trucks.
As they get here, those who consider themselves lucky, are bought off and taken to urban centers like Mbale, Jinja, Iganga and the capital Kampala.
Research has revealed that over 2600 children between the age of 7 and 17 are living on the streets in Kampala alone.
While the Karamojong are one of the largest ehtnic groups on the streets, girls occupy 96% of all the Karamojong street kids.
Their plight is telling.
Damon Wamala, the country director of Dwelling Places said those who have outgrown the place have joined their colleagues in downtown Kampala.
“This place has been nicknamed ‘Kikaramoja’ because of the thousands of Karamojong living here. Corrupt livelihoods, poverty is what can best describe the community here. At night, the Karamojong teenagers who have outgrown the streets have been forced into prostitution. What they earn from the commission goes to those who run the cartels,” he said.
The chairman of this zone has tried to fight the vice, but there are not many alternatives.
Those who have managed to find their way out, squeeze oil out of pork meat and sell it independently as cooking oil to those who can’t afford the processed one.
The business is growing.
The children are trafficked for labour or sex against the existing law, raising questions of why it is silent or why it is not being enforced.
Herbert Ariko, the MP for Soroti Municipality where the business of trading human life has become normal, is aware of what his happening back home and said he is in the process of drafting a bill to tighten the loose ends of the old bill.
The proposed bill will move further to punish those who aid the traffickers.
Even though these children haven’t gotten an opportunity to leverage on a livelihood, It is an obligation of the state to protect children and the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in particular is charged with this.
As much as hunger is a pull factor to human trafficking, the gradual breakdown of the moral fabric in society cannot be over looked.
It is unheard of among the Itesots to sell of their own children.
This form of modern day slavery has taken advantage of the desperate girls and their vulnerability.