Kampala’s Street Children Disappear Prior to Independence Day
Kampala, Uganda -- Kampala cleaned up its act, literally, in preparation for last week's Golden Jubilee Celebrations which took place on Tues., Oct. 9, 2012. With 15 heads of state and scores of diplomats hailing from all corners of the continent to celebrate Uganda's 50th year of independence, public officials went to great lengths to ensure the capital city was festive, neat and orderly.
In preparation for the official celebrations, the city was adorned with patriotic banners and the streets, though still riddled with potholes, were swept clean of litter and debris. Along with the trash, the street children seemed to have been swept away for the occassion too.
The city's main intersections -- where waiting motorists are typically swarmed by children with extended hands and swollen bellies -- were conspicuously void of street children beginning Mon., Oct. 8, 2012.
"I passed through the intersection near Garden City last Tuesday and only saw one man in a wheel chair begging," said Michelle Kiyimba, a teacher in Kampala referring to the Jinja Road / Yusuf Lule Road intersection. "I don't know where the street children are but I've noticed they seem to disappear all at once every once in a while. This is not the first time I've noticed it."
A week after the jubileee, there are still few signs of the children at the Jinja Road and Yusuf Lule Road intersection -- one of the more popular junctions where street children convene -- with the exception of one school-aged boy found sleeping in the medium about 50 yards north of the intersection
Three women with babies had also returned to the intersection to plead for money from passers by.
Mondo Kyateka, Assistant Commissioner for Youth and Children in Uganda, said that a number of children had recently been relocated from the streets to two different facilities.
“We occasionally remove the children from the streets but we did not do it this time specifically for the Golden Jubilee,” Kyateka said. “Some have gone to Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center for rehabilitation and then resettlement. Others have gone to UWESO.”
UWESO (Uganda Women’s Effort to save Orphans) is a national NGO founded in 1986 to respond to the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children. While a receptionist did confirm that a number of new arrivals had been admitted prior to Uganda’s golden jubilee celebrations, she declined to provide additional details. UWESO had not responded to further inquiries or interview requests by the time this story was posted.
Michael Alule, a principal at Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center, confirmed that 180 boys and girls were admitted to the facility prior to the jubilee celebrations. With its newest arrivals, the total number of children living at the center has risen to 320, he said.
“When the children arrive, we screen them to identify their needs,” he said. “We work to resettle those who are too small to stay at the camp with their parents. For those who know their parent’s phone numbers, we contact them to reunite them.”
“The majority of the kids, however, are not ready to go back to their parents right away,” Alule said. “So, we prepare them for eventual reintegration by counseling them about the dangers on the streets and by encouraging them to think about their futures.”
According to Kyateka, approximately 1,000 children have been successfully resettled with their families since efforts to rehabilitate and resettle children started in 2005.
Obtaining accurate data on the number of street children in Uganda is difficult, given there is no census for them and they live relatively hidden lives. However, according to UNICEF figures from 2005, there are approximately 10,000 street children whose ages are between 0 and 17 years old. Among these 89% are boys while 11% are girls.
According to Retrak, a UK based Charity that works with street children in Africa, there are about 5,000 street children in Kampala.