Spare The Road & Save The Street Child.

Whether trying to beat rush hour traffic or taking a leisurely stroll at your pace through the city, it is nearly impossible to miss street children while travelling through Kampala and other major towns in Uganda.

Recent years have seen a steady exponential growth in the numbers of the homeless in Kampala with a BBC report from 2019 finding that there were over 15,000 children between the ages of 7 and 17 with nowhere to call their home except for the streets.

Children end up on the streets for a number of reasons ranging from running away from extreme poverty or abusive situations at home to being kidnapped, trafficked and exploited by different entities.

While some of these children thrive and try to engage in (mostly informal) economic activities, life on the streets puts children at risk of abuse, rape, ritual killings, accidents and disease on top of themselves being drawn into the life of crime in order to survive.

Much as the Government has been alert to this ticking timebomb from as far back as 1996 with multiple efforts like the “Back Home Campaign For Karamoja” intended to trace, rehabilitate and resettle these children, there has been little success as reflected by the growing numbers.

In 2019, Cabinet approved a street children Strategic Action Plan & allocated UGX. 3 billion to deal with street children. In June of that year, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) also passed the Child Protection Ordinance 2019 which aimed to protect children in Kampala from engaging in harmful activities, such as selling alcohol.

However, according to the December 2021 findings of the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development, only UGX. 300 million of this could be accounted for. This spotlights the fact that much as street children themselves are known for begging for any money or handouts, addressing the core problem will be more complex than simply throwing money at the issue without accountability.

In trying to address issues of the homeless, it is important to remember that they are not a homogeneous group; these are people, all with different reasons for ending up on the street. As such, the approaches to dealing with street children must also be multi-pronged to address the different causes as and when they crop up.

Having the appropriate legal framework including the Child Protection Ordinance from 2019 is a good way to start and the ordinance has been operationalized this year to ensure it is in line with previous laws of Uganda. It prohibits activities that encourage children to stay on the street such as giving them food, money and clothing. Offenders will be liable for up to six months or pay a fine of two currency points. (A currency point is equivalent to UGX. 20,000.)

As with any new laws, the authorities also have a responsibility to sensitize the public on the new laws and regulations so that a well-intentioned act of kindness does not land someone a fine or behind bars.

However, efforts to address the plight of these children have largely been focused on rounding them up and taking them to rehab centres with some of the implementers even attracting criticism for manhandling (and in some cases allegedly abusing) these children.

The children are undoubtedly the most visual aspect but are only small fish in what appears to be a large cesspool filled with many unscrupulous actors who are determined to keep the children on the street as a form of business.

Hon. Flavia Kabahenda, the chairperson of the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development is reported to have pointed out that,

“… we have been to Koblin Rehabilitation Centre, the perimeter wall has never been completed. The rapists and traffickers pick these survivors, so they are camped there to be trafficked and raped. This is why we want an audit on the very much money we have appropriated.”

It is important for the authorities in charge to thus investigate and crack down on the cartels because as long as it is profitable for these individuals and/or cartels to have children on the street, the number of street children will continue to grow.

As citizens, we are also duty-bound to report any incidents involving child safety or trafficking to the Uganda Child Helpline on 116 or the Police Toll-Free Number on 0800199195.

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Freelance Writer Leaving Poetry For The Prose.

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