Street Children of Uganda Abused, Tortured? Not So Fast

Philip Kwesiga July 18, 2014

uganda street children
For many outside viewers, the reports of abuse of street children being abused and tortured by authorities and the public in Kampala paints a troubled society, but the situation on the ground is much more complex than what is being reported on by foreigners. Before such reports are released, important questions should be asked: Where do these children emerge from? What is the history of street children in Kampala? And who should be blamed?

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The Advent of Street Children

Like any other city, as the population grows, irresponsible partners emerge — some of them are the results of poverty while others show the social fabric of the larger community. In Kampala, the changing landscape and the desire to move to the capital in search for a living has meant that people of different statuses and cultural backgrounds continue to flow in to the city.

Some of these people don’t have strong family (African) ties. Therefore the act of having a sexual encounter and the result of this encounter, pregnancy, is rarely considered. Indeed, most of the street children are a result of a social encounter of the parents without a planned future, causing a good number of street children to know their “mothers” but hardly be able to trace the other parents’ roots.

Originally (after the Imperial set-in) Kampala occupied seven hills. Today, we have more than 35 hills and still counting. Yet the levels of good employment and social and economic growth has not improved to cater for such expansion. Thus, the desire to come to the city has increased proportionately with the expanded city. With these said expansions are the usual slum dwellers whose activity is largely social rather than economic.

The residents of these dwellings range from school drop outs, social misfits, and any other low-class citizenry. These are the largest providers of street children in Kampala. If this class of citizens don’t abort the pregnancy, the likelihood and outcome is a street child. It is these outcasts in such communities that end up on the streets only to learn the ways of survival in such conditions. Their activities in order to survive include eating from the dump sites, street begging, and petty theft from unsuspecting city-goers.

The second category of street children come from far communities, such as Karamoja (500km from Kampala). The Karimajong were cattle keepers and rustlers, but when their lifestyle was interfered with, some of the organised elders resorted to “selling” children to mainly Kampala and any other city for the purpose of eliciting sympathy from city dwellers.

This group of children are now common on the main streets of Kampala and at street lights, where children as young as 3 years old are used to beg for a living from some organised groups. The money they collect is usually not theirs but is shared with the alleged foster parents who take the lion’s share. This year a story was run in the local media tracing their movement from the Karamoja region.

With growing numbers, and being a nuisance to other city occupants, the police and indeed Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) have been forced to take drastic measures to keep the city clean. And I think that is where the Human Rights Watch (HRW) story and report emerges from.

While I wonder at the growing number of such organisations wanting to account for street childrens’ existence, I imagine some of their community members are actually the ones responsible for the additions of such street children. Instead of running to blame the KCCA/police for brutality, they should address real community issues: Who is to blame? Is it the person/community who un-planningly produces children to suffer in the world or the organizations in the city that try to keep law and order.

While it is the right of every citizen (street child or otherwise) to live, I don’t think these Human rights advocates would stand those street children if they found them hanging in their usually fenced compounds in the upscale communities of Kampala? How do they feel if their cars are ripped off of driving mirrors or are smashed to access the car’s contents?

All these questions should have been addressed before our own relatives got involved in affairs that led/lead to unplanned children who later end up on the street.

Whom Should We Blame?

I get tired of seeing some of these so-called human rights organizations and advocates trying to handle the bull by its horns rather than tame the poor bull. For example, some of these human rights advocates employ young children as house help. When they are done with them, usually after a few years, these chaps — having gained nothing – are left to go without any meaningful economic investment for their future.

These are some of the likely persons that will hang on to the city life knowing that they cannot afford to raise a family in the city.  We should stop to think and not only dwell on those glossy human rights watch reports that are produced after a certain period and then international media jumps in.

Are we being responsible to our communities before all these outcomes of street children are highlighted or we do need to establish a stop gap?

The report should give us the history and allow us to tackle the issues in existence before doling out blame. What would they report if the police/KCCA did not try to do their work?

To me, there are more abused human rights in the West and first world against the poor.

For example, who would allow the BBC to report about their children or people like this, exposing our dirt while their dirt goes “unreported.” One only need to watch the documentary series of “Border Force,” which reveals what happens to illegal immigrants in the U.K.

Watch an episode of “Border Force” here:


I rest my case!

Last Edited by:Welby Obeng Updated: June 19, 2018


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