By Peter Kaujju
On Saturday of January 2018, while I observed the traffic signs along Jinja Road near Centenary Park, just before Kitgum House, a very handsome little boy who I later came to know as Brian approached me and asked for money, indicating he wanted it to buy something to eat. Brian, who is about 10 years old, spoke relatively good English and I was prompted to engage him further in a conversation, asking him I wanted to be his friend. Since then, I have been speaking to this little soul every Saturday as I head to work in the City Center of Kampala and sometimes when heading out of town.
Brian, has since revealed to me that he comes from Karamoja and was brought to Kampala by a distant relative who promised to take him to school but has since ended on the streets of Kampala daily to ask for money. This money is given to his Kampala caretaker or ‘guardian’ every end of day. I have for the past two months now been engaging him about a plan to take him back to his home but he told me ‘that woman who brought me will pick me and I will be killed’. He has revealed to me that his mother is alive but he won’t go back home because of the fear he told me about. My confidence building mission that he will be absolutely safe continues by the day and there is progress, I must say!
The slight setback I experienced last weekend was to find him with a small box of chewing gum given to him by the master to sell as he asks for money. Though I insisted on taking him back home so he can continue with school, it took us time to chat freely as he was not sure what my intentions to discuss with him were. In fact, one time when I appeared with someone else, he told us a different name and said he was from Kenya until I removed a cap I reminded him about myself. This is very typical of many of these children as they are coached not to reveal their identity or share details where they come from.
Painfully, as my conversation continues with him, Brian is only one among many children who previously were living with their parents, guardians and attending school in the countryside but have ended up on city streets to ‘work’ (beg) for money on behalf of such adult offenders that bring them to Kampala and I guess, other towns under the guise of better life depriving them of their future!
Many of these children live unaccompanied, some report to the streets for ‘work’ but stay with their families from surrounding slums while others live there all by themselves. The influx of many families from Karamoja settling in Katwe and Kisenyi does not make the situation any better and points greatly to the falling apart of the social fabric and family bond.
More worrying is that while on these streets, these children are exposed to many activities which are of high risk to their lives such as child labour, drug abuse, crime and exposure to poor health conditions amidst the high-speeding motor vehicles, Boda Bodas and Bicycles.
A number of state and non-state interventions have been embraced such as rescue, rehabilitation and resettling of these children with their parents and guardians back home. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is working with entities like Ministry of Gender, UWESO, Retrak, Dwellings Places and KYDA among others but the push factors such limited or lack of care and responsibility on the side of parents/guardians, lies propagated by adult offenders luring these children continue the undermine these efforts.
There are several engagements that have been conducted including sensitization of these communities with area Members of Parliament and other key stakeholders, reuniting children with their families and arrest as well as prosecution of adult offenders that lure these children living their homes but the vice continues.
Chapter 4 of the Uganda Constitution provides for the numerous rights of children which we must observe all the time.
In addition to a continued rescue of these children, a firm stand especially prosecution of those taking advantage of these children and engagement with communities to observe the constitutional rights of children, KCCA is planning a tougher child protection Ordinance.
In our African setting, children belong to the community and I implore parents, guardians, Local Council leaders, Members of Parliament and the communities to always work tirelessly in protecting the children. Let’s redeem those that have ended up on the streets because of mistreatment, propagation of lies, neglect and grant them chance to prepare for adult life and also address the push factors in our respective jurisdictions.
The Writer is Head of Public & Corporate Affairs, KCCA