IWPR Coverage Brings Help to Ugandan Street Children
Reporting by IWPR on child neglect in post-conflict northern Uganda has prompted a local school to offer bursaries to two children living on the streets of Gulu.
“I was at home listening to the radio when I heard this programme about street children,” Jennifer Angeyo, headmistress of the Mother Ludia School in Gulu, said. “I was very touched by their plight. They gave the impression that if they got back to school, their life would change.”
Angeyo said although the radio station’s power supply was cut during the broadcast, she telephoned and subsequently visited the station – Mega FM in Gulu – as she wanted to meet the children and offer them a chance to attend school.
The neglect of children in northern Uganda in the aftermath of the rebel war was the focus of a recent episode of IWPR’s bi-monthly radio programme, Facing Justice. (For a text version of this story, see Battle for Child Welfare in Northern Uganda.)
The programme is broadcast on nine radio stations in the towns and surrounding areas of Gulu, Lira, Soroti, Kitgum, Pader and Arua. The show is produced by local reporters in partnership with the Northern Uganda Media Club, NUMEC, and airs in English and three local languages – Ateso, Lugbara, and Luo.
Interviewed for the programme, the two boys described the hard times they endured while living on the streets in Gulu.
“Getting money is very difficult, we are always beaten, we sleep anywhere – even in [a] place which is not good for humans.” said one of the boys. “If we go and sleep in good places, we are beaten. So we go and sleep in these bad places without eating, because getting money to buy food is a problem.”
Angeyo told Facing Justice she felt compelled to help the boys.
“I am a parent, I am a mother. I felt sympathetic after listening to the radio programme,” she said.
Nicky Afa-ei, programmes manager at Mega FM, said that when Angeyo visited their station wanting to meet the two youngsters, the station contacted the Facing Justice producers.
It took weeks before the children could be located and introduced to the school headmistress. Eventually, the boys did meet the school headmistress. She also met the father of one of the boys, who gave his consent for his son to join boarding section of the school. The bursary offered to the youngster will cover his education for the next four years until he completes primary school.
The second boy did not take up the bursary offer immediately. Instead, the headmistress helped him to reunite with his father, who had moved away from Gulu district.
The first boy was delighted about his new chance at schooling, saying he was “very happy to be going back to school” where he could “start eating good food and sleep in a good place”.
Sarah Adongo, who hosts the programme on Mega FM, praised Facing Justice’s reporting on subjects like child neglect in the region.
“Facing Justice has helped to investigate and report on crucial human rights issues affecting the people in northern Uganda,” she said. “It has helped so much in bringing to light issues of human rights and other social issues affecting people in northern Uganda and therefore giving answers to some of their concerns and problems, hence helping them to hold their leaders accountable and also [enabling] them to know [about] issues which they would otherwise not have known.”
While the last five years have seen a return to peace in northern Uganda and the resettlement of the nearly two million people displaced by the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, conflict, the region faces numerous challenges, among them the rise in child neglect.
Police statistics show the region has the highest rate of child neglect in the country, partly due to the effects of the two-decade long conflict.
The story of the two boys is typical of many living on the streets in Gulu and other towns in northern Uganda. Neglected by their parents, several children are left vulnerable and are often forced to drop out of school, scavenge for food or resort to crime or even prostitution.
According to the police’s child family protection unit in Gulu, 20 cases of child neglect were recorded in March this year. Meanwhile, in Kalongo, a town in Agago district, child protection officers told Facing Justice that approximately seven new cases of neglect are reported to them every week.
Charles Odongkara, who presents the Facing Justice programme on Radio Palwak in Pader district, said the conflict had left many orphans. Other consequences of the rebel war and life in displacement camps such as the rise in HIV/AIDS infection rates have seen the problem intensify, he said.
“Some of the young girls here resorted to prostitution as a result of poverty in the community,” Odongkara said.
The Facing Justice programme in northern Uganda has been produced by a team of local reporters since 2009. It covers issues of justice, human rights, and post-conflict recovery in northern Uganda.
“The programme is so helpful to our listeners and to the radio station as well, because it has boosted our listenership since the community loves to listen to issues that directly affect and concern them, and also where their participation is guaranteed as is the case with Facing Justice programme.” Adongo said.
Wairagala Wakabi is IWPR’s project coordinator in Uganda.