JINJA – Every April 12, the world observes International Day for Street Children to acknowledge the strength and resilience of millions of street children around the world.
The day has been celebrated globally since 2012, to recognise the humanity, dignity and defiance of street children in the face of unimaginable hardships.
Uganda is no exception with as many as 15,000 children living on the streets of Kampala city a lone aged from seven up to the age of 17.
The National function organised by Government and civil society organistions was held on Friday 14th April in Jinja city which is among the cities with the highest number of street children.
Those children have been forced onto the streets due to poverty, harsh conditions at home, abandonment, school drop-out and food shortages with many coming from larger families especially those with new step-parents who don’t or won’t care for the existing children in the family, according to Ms. Phoebe Monica Kwagala, probation and social welfare officer, Jinja city
Study shows that AIDS is also a major factor with Uganda having one of the highest prevalence rates in the world leaving 800,000 children orphaned through AIDS-related deaths out of a total orphan population of some 1.6 million children.
The high number of children without access to education has prompted a rise in gender-based violence, early child marriage, child labour and exploitation, in part due to the absence of the safeguarding role played by schools.
Kwagala, commended different organizations that have come onboard to rescue these children by doing a lot of rehabilitation services, providing skills development, counseling and guidance.
“Our role as government is to guide them on issues of institutionalizing the children. The children are meant to grow in their families, supposed to be owned. Generally, the numbers are not so big because of the interventions we have done.”
Under their network, Children at Risk Action, the civil society organisations working with children in Uganda urged parents to learn to be present in the lives of their children.
“If you become absent in their lives, they’ll opt for the streets,” said Sanyu Roberts aka The Voice of the Streets, an activist for the rights of Children and young adults.
“We all did not grow up in well-off families but we didn’t run to the streets. Parents must learn that your presence in the lives of their children is so important.”
According to him, CSOs have done what they could to fight for the rights of the children “but it’s not enough, until everyone, every decision maker listens to us.”
“We have been troubled oftentimes when we’re called to the police to rescue the children that have been arrested and put in cells with adults. This is something that we need to find solutions for,” he noted.
He called for the opportunity to train the enforcement personnel on child handling.
“In Kampala, something has been done. We got involved in KCCA enforcement personnel training to ease the way they retract children without beating them.”
Ms. Kyomugisha Rebecca from Jinja Connection, a project that works with street-connected children said that much as they have employed efforts to pick the children from the streets and take them to our rehabilitation centers for guidance and counseling before they get them back to their families, they are challenged with the people who are employing them, tip them, and give them food while on the streets, which remains a pull factor.
“It’s not bad to feed them but I would advise everyone willing to help these children to go through the organizations working with these children so that we have a common goal.”
13-year-old Abura Filsan from Napak who was once on the street blamed the cause on parents who have failed to fulfill their responsibilities.
“At home, they treat us so badly, call us (girls) prostitutes,” she said, also decrying forced marriages and defilement against them.
Abura who ran up to Nairobi in Kenya also decried corruption by police officers whom she said ask them for money whenever they try to open up cases.
“Once you are raped and go to the police, they don’t take your case because the perpetrator will give them money and they abandon you,” she said.
The CSOs want the children to be taken back home so that they can enjoy their rights to protection and the right to education.
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