Street Questions

By on October 28, 2019

In almost every town you visit in Uganda, you will bump into kids lining the streets, not to welcome you or wish you well, but with their hands out – in search of food and money. The phenomenon of street kids is one that has been with us for decades and from the look of things, it is one that is here for a while. 

Obviously there have been efforts to rid the streets of these children but so far, the efforts have been futile. Everywhere you turn, you are likely to bump into a little child begging on the street or a bunch of kids running around aimlessly as they go about living their lives on the street.

While attending a dialogue on Street Children organized by AfriChild, I bumped into several ugly truths about this reality that is street children. This dialogue, having been organised under the theme “A Public Dialogue on the Phenomenon and Policy Responses to Street Connected Children in Uganda”, was attended by several stakeholders including KCCA, Ministry of Gender Labour & Social Development, Uganda Police, CSOs, the media and the general public. 

One of the eye-opening questions asked during this dialogue was the question of origin. Where do these children on the street come from? How do children come to be on the street when ideally every child should have a home and be in school?

Listening to some of the street children tell their story was not only heartbreaking but massively revealing, especially regarding how these children come to the street. Some children get onto the street because of family breakups. Financialy constrained parents often abandon their children from as early as birth and these little fellas end up having to survive on the street. In some cases, when parents or guardians die, the society is not willing/able to look after certain children and as as result they are pushed to the street to fend for themselves. There are also instances where children just feel like they need a taste of life elsewhere. Sometimes children feel the urge to go and find greener pastures elsewhere so they find themselves moving from one town to another searching for the greener pastures which incidentally, they never find. 

There is also a horrible revelation that sometimes, parents and guardians ‘sell’ their children to people who eventually bring the children to the street for their own selfish reasons. In the recent past, reports have come alive of parents parading their own little children for sale at prices as ridiculously low as UGX 30,000. 

With all these factors working in tandem, it is no surprise that streets are always filled with these little fellas. 

According to UNESCO, the number of children on the street in the world stands at 150 million with 30% of these being in Sub Saharan Africa. This means that while countries in the Sub Saharan African region are grappling with several other problems, they also have to contend with the issue of street children a lot more than the rest of the world. The particular numbers for Uganda might not entirely be known as every day that passes several street children emerge, but recent enumerations showed that there were 15,500 children, between 7 and 17 years, living and/or working on the streets of four towns; Iganga, Jinja, Kampala and Mbale. 

The sad fact is that while these children come to the street in search of greener pastures, they often end up leading lives far from their dreams. They are usually deprived of food, clean water, medical care, shelter and education. In addition, it is commonplace for street children to suffer abuse, violence and exploitation from their peers, the rest of the community and law enforcement officers too. 

Through relevant authorities, the Government of Uganda has maintained that children must grow up in families and they should be given an education, raised in healthy circumstances and generally given a worthy life. The Government has even gone ahead to discourage this phenomenon by constantly raiding the streets to find and remove the street children, trying to reunite them with their families and criminalisation of any activities that might encourage street children. For instance, anyone found feeding street children or offering them money could very easily be prosecuted in the courts of law. Equally, anyone found dealing in the trafficking of children will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. 

All these are noble things to do. However, the root cause of the street children needs to be addressed if this is to be fixed once and for all. 

Instead of children aspiring to come to the city to look for greener pastures, they need to have reason to want to stay in their local neighbourhoods. That way, they can develop their local communities and turn them into places where other people would want to live. Also, family values have to be instilled into people from the onset. People need to be taught about the importance of family and why every child needs to grow up in such an environment. In addition, the issue of mental health is one that is often ignored but requires as much attention. Many of the children on the street are not there for the first time. They were once on the street, were taken off but because there were no follow up processes they ended up coming back to the street.  

It is important for institutions like Afri Child to be at the centre of the discussion for solutions regarding street children. As a multidisciplinary research institution that undertakes child-focused research, supports capacity building of academics, policymakers and practitioners, and advocates for evidence-based policymaking and programming to improve the well-being of Children, AfriChild, together with several other stakeholders should be able to come up with ideas on how the issue of children of the street is dealt with. 

Yes, the Government may want to deal with this issue with an iron arm, and perhaps the Gov’t is justified –  but surely there must be an understanding that these children, given an option, would not want to be on the street. Therefore, there must be common decency and humanity when dealing with these street children. 

The policy responses to street children need a perfect mix of rule of law, human decency, research and appropriate policy. 

“Street children are lovely blossoms just dropped from the tree after a heavy storm. Now they need to be put together with a needle and threads of security and shelter to live into a beautiful circle of life’s garland” ― Munia Khan

Bernard
a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Baldie. Ailurophile. Social Media Junkie. Blogger. Pluviophile. Fixer. Sober Drunkard.
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