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Thousands of children living and working on the streets of Uganda

29 May 2020

Charity report reveals dangers faced by young people

Hope for Justice

Children on the streets in Kampala, Uganda

Children on the streets in Kampala, Uganda

THOUSANDS of children, including more than 750 under the age of seven, are living and/or working on the streets in Uganda, new research from the Christian anti-slavery charity Home for Justice states.

The study was undertaken in Iganga, Jinja, Mbale, and Kampala in 2017, in partnership with the Ugandan government. The findings were published last week in the report Enumeration of Children on the Streets in Uganda.

It estimates that about 15,500 children aged between seven and 17 are living and/or working on the streets across the four towns. The authors explain: “Dozens of children are known to travel this route through eastern Uganda with the aim of reaching their destination, Kampala, the country’s capital, where they hope to find work, food, and a better way of life.”

Most children reported coming from impoverished and broken families; many said that they had run away from emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive homes.

A dual system of methodology was used, in which two separate counts of children were taken and the results were matched to determine the overlap, and thus the proportion of children that were missed. The whole population of children was then estimated by counting those missed. Children under seven were counted in a separate tally, but were not interviewed.

Hope for JusticeChildren asleep on the streets in Kampala, Uganda

In Kampala, more than 2600 children aged seven to 17 reported that they were sleeping on the streets, or in other public places, most nights a week; this figure was about 600 in Jinja and Mbale. Very few children were found to be living on the streets in Iganga. Several thousand children of the same age in Mbale, Jinja, and Iganga (4400, 3100, and 2600) said that they were sleeping in a home most nights a week, but were working on the streets one or more days a week. In Kampala, this estimate was 1400.

Most of the children living on the streets were boys (more than 90 per cent); almost one third of the children working on the streets were girls (30 per cent). Of the 3600 children within the ethnic group Karamojong who were living and working on the streets, most were girls (73 per cent and 96 per cent). The average age of girls living and working on the streets was much younger than boys, and girls spent less time on the streets (less than a year in most cases) than boys (about two years).

Older girls said that the threat of sexual abuse was a significant challenge. One 17-year-old girl said: “Youth gangs move around the streets at night. There were ten of them and they said to me, ‘You are a beautiful young lady, what are you doing outside at this time? If you refuse to have sex with us, we are going to stab you and leave you dead. If you dare fight back, we will kill you.’”

As well as emotional trauma, the girls were exposed to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, became pregnant, and, in some cases, gave birth on the streets. Boys reported that they were more exposed to physical violence and abuse by the police and the general public.

The most common activity of children working on the streets was scavenging, followed by selling or preparing goods and carrying loads. Most children worked with other children, 23 per cent with family members (mostly girls), and ten per cent with adults to whom they were not related.

While most children said that they had attended school at some point, on average the students were four years behind their age group. More than one third of Karamojong children had never been to school (36 per cent), compared with the rest (14 per cent). The most common reason for not attending school was not being able to afford the fees, the uniform, or other materials.

The Uganda country director at Hope for Justice, Florence Soyekwo, said: “We have learned several things from the study that have informed our response: namely, the reasons why children enter life on the streets, what their experiences are, and the kinds of risks to exploitation they encounter.

Hope for JusticeChildren sleep on top of sacks on the streets of Uganda

“The publication and endorsement of this report by the Ugandan government is a milestone achievement because it allows for a co-ordinated effort to combat child exploitation. This is the first study of its kind to be conducted in Uganda using this methodology. By using evidence such as this to inform policy and practice, we remain agile, responsive, and proactive in our approach to combating the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable groups in Uganda.”

The report supports the National Child Policy in Uganda, currently in the draft stages, but recommends that the study be used to make targeted interventions in each location, including short-term transitional care for the children and longer-term prevention strategies. Street round-ups should be avoided, and the detention of children by the police and in juvenile centres be reviewed, it says.

The Ugandan government should also provide adequate funding to support the Uganda Education Act, under which schooling is compulsory up to the age of 12 or 13, and develop a basic education curriculum that can be used with children outside school. It should also renew its commitment to ending child labour in Uganda by 2025, as agreed in the Sustainable Development Goals, the charity says.

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