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They are as young as four and Kampala’s city authorities have said their numbers are rising. DW reporter Frank Yiga reports on why children end up on the streets of Uganda's capital.
Twelve-year-old Richard Kawadwa is together with five children his age on a busy road in Kampala, Uganda's capital. He's been living on the street for a year after running away from home.
"The reason why I ran away from home is that I lost my aunt's money when she sent me to the shop. I became afraid," he said, adding that he did not know how his aunt would react and decided that running away was his best option.
"The numbers keep increasing day by day," said Peter Kaujju of the Kampala City Authority.
Although authorities frequently take kids off the streets, he explained, more keep coming back — and sometimes not by their own choice.
"We discovered that the majority of these children come from Karamoja region. There are some people that go and convince the parents to send their children to Kampala to go to school. They then make the children beg on their behalf," he told DW. "We have been able to prosecute three and we're continuing to look for them."
The heavy traffic, which the streets of Kampala are famous for, are the perfect places to beg. Kids go from car to car, which is especially dangerous for the young children — even toddlers are sometimes taken along.
Additionally, the crawling traffic is a good opportunity for petty thieves. "They pull your necklace, they remove your head-lamp," said Sarah Eperu, a Kampala resident. "They practically become thieves and so they get themselves into dangerous situations."
If caught, the kids are taken in by the police.
"I will remove a child from the street who has committed a crime," said Carol, a police officer at the family and children's affairs unit at Central Police Station. Then, she said, the police try to play a supportive role, for instance, by taking the children to a rehabilitation home.
Many children run away from abuse at home. Others are lured by traffickers offering them a better life
Adapting to 'normal' life
Mondo Kyateka, the commissioner for youth and children's affairs at Uganda's Ministry for Gender Labor and Social Development, told DW Uganda is trying to address the issue of street children by providing counseling and support reintegrating the children with their families.
"We need more than that to have parents become parents again," Kyateka said. "Many of the children run away from home because of domestic violence, so the ministry has come up with parenting guidelines. We also need to constantly counsel our children to understand, as much as they have their rights, they also have their responsibilities."
The Tudabujja half-way home, run by the UK-based charity organization Retrak, which focuses on helping children who have run away from home, is one of the centers that take in street children. Mama Zelly, the center's caretaker, explained how they address the children's immediate needs.
"On the streets, they don't wash, so when they come here you have to bathe in the morning, you have to bathe in the afternoon, you have to wash three times a week," she said.
There are many more lessons to be learnt: "They do all the domestic chores here, we teach them how to work together, make their beds. In the first week you learn that you have to sleep at 9 p.m. Then respect for property — whatever you use, put it where it is supposed to be."
As Mama Zelly pointed out, all of these are things that the children never learned or have to relearn after living on the street. The organization is also in contact with the families of the children in an attempt to get to root of the problem and perhaps reunite them.