Address domestic violence to check street children

Address domestic violence to check street children
Thursday, 5th June, 2008     

By Robert Kashaija

I was moving on a busy street of Kampala when I saw the presidential convoy moving slowly. Street children tried to get close to the motorcade but security personnel kept them at bay. I had not imagined that street children could be so brave so as to get close to the President. This is an indication that the problem of street children in Uganda is grave.

Uganda is said to have the highest number of orphans in the world. A-quarter of all homesteads have an orphan who lost both parents to AIDS.

The US Bureau for Labour Affairs estimates that 5,000 children in Uganda beg, wash cars, scavenge, work as commercial sex and sell small items on the streets of Kampala. The number of street children has been rising steadily for the last five years. Almost 90% of these homeless children are from Karamoja.

Poverty is not the only factor behind the phenomenon of street children. For instance, many children from rich families have ended up as commercial sex workers or dancers and petty musicians in bars.

Street children need meaningful conversation with someone they trust so as to regain self esteem and a sense of belonging. In other words, they need to be associated with a home, whether rich or poor.

The Government has invested a lot of money in Karamoja. Why then this exodus of children to the city streets? It seems the money has not had substantial effect or trickled down to the ultimate beneficiaries.

The children and their mothers on the streets collect money from good Samaritans and send it back home. This means there are very few opportunities for them in Karamoja. This is where the Government must come in.

We need to address the factors that compel the street children to leave their homeland to beg on the streets of urban centres. These include insecurity, food shortage, lack of shelter, domestic violence and uncontrolled disease.

Many NGOs receive a lot of money from donors to help destitute people but it is possible that they divert the money to their own use or they are overwhelmed by the numbers. What about the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development? What has it done to curb this problem? Are they also overwhelmed?

We need to address issues like child abuse, torture, neglect and HIV/AIDS. These are some of the problems that force children to the streets. Another important factor is the violation of basic human rights such as the right to life, liberty and security.

The family, which is supposed to be the bedrock for a child’s welfare and protection, is no longer a comfortable place for the child to live in. Children are living their homes to escape domestic violence because of the breakdown of family structures. Schools which are supposed to nurture children have also become centres of violence and crime.

The public also contributes to the problem of street children. Those who give money to begging children encouraging them to stay on and others to come.

The Government has tried to institute a youth policy but it is not enough for dealing with every need of the youth. NGOs and civil society organisations should come in to supplement government efforts.

Street children are a target for witch doctors who take them as human sacrifices. The media has been awash with reports rape and killings of these children. All the stakeholders, including government and the community, need to put in place policies and strategies that address the plight of street children.

The writer is the Western Youth MP

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