A recent survey carried out by children rights body, ANPPCAN, indicates that the number of children taking to the streets has for the past four years increased.
At the same time, child care institutions commonly known as orphanages that were largely started to accommodate orphans and other homeless children have equally registered an exponential growth over years.
According to the Gender ministry database, in 1996, Uganda had only 35 child care institutions. Today, there are more than 500 child care homes and out of these, only six centres are run by the State. So, whereas child care homes were initially started to take orphans and other homeless children off the streets, the number of street children has quadrupled.
So where is the problem?
First, it is safe to say that the initial mission of child care homes was hijacked by a group of individuals who are profiteering from these care centres.
Most care centres initially provided a safe environment for homeless children with emphasis on child rehabilitation and family reunification where this was possible. Today, child care institutions have turned into business. Some individuals, under the guise of child support, start care centres to fleece donors.
Other centres have become adoption centres that have fuelled the current child trafficking craze. In fact, the ministry of Gender database (2012) shows that there are more than 200 child care centres that are not registered or suitable to care for children.
Another 100 centres are hidden and their activities not monitored.
There is another category of profiteers. These are individuals who ferry children and their mothers from as far as karamoja and station them on various streets in Kampala to beg. Children as young as three years are a common site on our streets, ‘working’ to pay their masters. These children are paid on commission basis depending on their daily collections.
So every time KCCA enforcement officers and police round up these children and take them back to their areas of origin, they are ferried back by profiteers.
Yet some of the children who are taken to Kampirigisa Rehabilitation Centre are forced to escape back to the streets because of overcrowding, poor hygiene and underfeeding at the centre.
Street begging and child hawking have also greatly fuelled increased number of children on the streets.
Yet in 2013, KCCA designed a policy that was aimed at outlawing street begging. Under this policy, the donors of street beggars were, among other sanctions, to be imprisoned so as to discourage begging.
Of course, the policy was shelved due to public pressure and the inability of KCCA to relocate and offer an alternative source of income to street beggars. In Malawi, street begging in major cities and towns was outlawed and former street beggars rehabilitated into more useful and productive citizens.
In the 2015/16 Budget, the Gender ministry will receive a paltry 1 per cent of the national Budget.
This perennial underfunding will continue to constrain the ministry’s capacity to implement policies such as Orphans and other Vulnerable Children policy under which issues such as street children are addressed.
More so, it will be difficult to implement the alternative care framework. This framework is a partnership between government and civil society that emphasises family preservation, resettlement and alternative care framework for children without parental care in Uganda.
There are many attendant risks associated with raising children in an institutionalised setting. In fact, the preamble to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children that Uganda ratified emphasises the need for children to be brought up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. Parents, communities and government must not abdicate their responsibility.
Hence each of these must play their role so that every child’s right to shelter and other basic necessities of life are granted as the law provides.
Stuart Oramire is a Child Rights Advocate working with Centre for Children’s Rights.