It is estimated that there are some 10,000 street children in Uganda (up from 4000 in 1993) with 600 living in the capital Kampala alone and, according to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), a further sixteen are joining their number every day with most coming from the Napak District of northern Uganda where there have been recurring food shortages leaving hundreds dead as recently as the summer of 2013. The north of Uganda, of course, is also where the Lord's Resistance Army operated for many years abducting thousands of children, many of whom had no homes to return to and those children not abducted effectively grew up in a conflict zone that fractured and destroyed whole families and communities.
Many of the other children are 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 a new step-parents who don't or won't care for the existing children in the family. AIDS is also a major factor with Uganda having one of the highest prevalence rates in the world leaving 2.3 million children orphaned through AIDS related deaths; the highest % of AIDS orphans in the world. Equally disturbingly, many end up on the streets having been trafficked in exchange for money being sent back to their birth families with the going rate being 20,000UGX a month, some £5.00. According to the U.S. Department of State "Trafficking in Persons Report 2008" children in Uganda are trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation both within the country and to other destinations including Canada, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Particularly vulnerable are the children of Karamojong people, a group of herders from north-east Uganda, with both women and children being sold in such places as cattle markets.
They go on to work in domestic servitude, brick laying, general and construction labouring, sand mining, stone quarrying, tree planting, cutting, and in other labour intensive industries. Some later escape and find their way onto the streets. As discussed elsewhere, these street children in Uganda are rarely loveable street urchins, rather drug takers, smokers and the walking wounded after altercations with the local police and other youths. Daily life consists of searching for scraps of food, begging or stealing in order to survive. Most of the children live in 'dens' they do not club together as one homogenous group, rather older boys take money off younger children and beat them unless they comply or simply because they catch them playing on the streets rather than making money for them. UNICEF recently reported the plight of one street boy, a 10 year old, who was stabbed, doused in petrol and set on fire by other children. He received severe burns however survived the attack.
There are OVC (Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children) policies in operation in Uganda, however many are under funded and under publicised leaving it to NGOs, charities and individuals to make a difference. Not only do they face resource issues but also a largely hostile population who mainly don't care about the problem.One such project working with street children in Kampala is Raising Up Hope for Uganda (RUHU), a non-profit, grassroots organization based in Bulenga just outside the city itself. RUHU is an umbrella organization that has an orphanage, day care and safe house for neglected children.
The House of Hope or "Safe House" is a building which currently houses approximately thirty boys from ages ten to sixteen, all of whom are former street children. It is essentially a rehabilitation centre for young boys who were found living on the streets. RUHU does slum outreach and gets to know the children who have gathered in the slums of Kampala from all over the country, by tending to their wounds and playing football with them to build trusting relationships before inviting them to House of Hope.
At the House of Hope, they provide the children with beds, meals and education, all in a structured and loving environment and work to reintegrate them into normal life and give back the childhood that so many of them have lost to homelessness and poverty. As most of the children there have never attended school before, it is helpful for them to be put in a basic classroom setting, learning rules and structure. This transitional period helps before they can be placed in a formal school as part of the process of reintegration. After a year of living in House of Hope, these children are ready to move on to formal education
Find out more about Raising Hope for Uganda, its safe house, outreach projects and other services for vulnerable children and young people in need here and, if the situation of street children in Uganda concerns you, you can sponsor one of their children or make a donation to the project to help. Just to bring it home, the little lad (above) was recently poisoned by eating damaged food he had found in a bin in Kampala. Yahaya died alone in the gutter aged just fifteen.
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