New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: The Story Behind Street Beggars

Orin Rhodah Bukenya is a Child Protection and Care officer at UWESO, Masuliita Children's Village. The village was founded under a programme that was initiated by the First Lady, Janet Museveni, to rehabilitate street children, before settling them in their homes.

The programme, which started in 2002 at Kampiringisa, was transferred to Masuliita because the camp could no longer handle the big numbers.

Bukenya, who has worked there for over a year, explains that Kampiringisa was used to handle juvenile delinquents, but later, social workers discovered that keeping street children and delinquents together was not a good idea.

"While a juvenile delinquent can easily be rehabilitated after coming to terms with their offences and complying with the situation to serve their terms, the street children often react differently," she explains.

"Delinquents have loving families to turn to while street children feel unloved and abandoned all the time and are very difficult to rehabilitate."

Bukenya says they also try to rehabilitate the child traffickers. "Traffickers have told us that they pay about sh20,000 per child to the parents or relatives of the children in Karamoja, before they allow them to bring them to Kampala to make money," she said.

LIFE ON THE STREET

At Masulita, the liberated girls, who are now fluent in Luganda, after living in Kisenyi for long, said life was hard. They worked like slaves.

Their traffickers remain their bosses and monitor them wherever they are stationed across the city centre. One girl said they are supposed to remit at least sh5,000 a day to the bosses although, on a good day, she could collect up to sh10,000.

"Once you fail to collect the required sh5,000, you are beaten, denied supper or a blanket to cover yourself and, at times, you sleep on the verandah because you need sh400 to pay for the space to sleep in," one of the girls said.

About 30 of them share a small room room in Kisenyi. When they make more money, they can buy themselves a better meal at sh1,000, pay sh400 for shelter per night and keep the rest for a bad day.

Their other expenditures include lunch, water and toilet facilities. The toddlers are given bread and a bottle of water for lunch. The girl said many of her colleagues would love to leave the streets and return home to their parents, but they are always monitored.

The fact that they cannot afford the transport home also makes any effort to escape diffi cult.

REHABILITATION PROCESS

Bukenya says it is not easy to teach the children, even the simple manners of sanitation and hygiene. "While on the streets, they get used to defecating and urinating in dark corners so you need to teach them toilet manners.

The teenage girls tell us they used to make a hole in the ground during their menstruation periods and sit there for a whole day for the blood to sink into the soil.

We had to introduce them to pads. Fornication on the streets One woman had come to the centre to follow her child who had been picked from the street. She was breast feeding the two-months-old baby.

She claims she ran away when KCCA enforcement officers rounded the beggars and left her baby on the pavement. The baby was taken in the swoop and she managed to trace it in Masulita. She was allowed to breastfeed the baby, but not to take it away.

She said the babies were conceived from the streets. The father of the baby is a Mutoro, she said, while the father of her first born is a Muganda.

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