Monday February 17 2014

Let’s strengthen child protection

The Sunday Monitor story about a pastor who was arrested with 12 children highlights a major problem that is often downplayed mainly because child trafficking, especially for purposes of cheap labour, has become a generally acceptable, albeit illegal practice in Uganda.

Although stories of child-related abuse usually grab national attention and justifiably cause widespread public outcry, child trafficking – a violation of the rights of children – does not elicit a similar degree of fury. The frequency of media reports about child trafficking should, however, remind us of our duty as responsible citizens to fight this vice.

The Budaka case is a typical example of the trend child trafficking has taken. A ‘Good Samaritan’approaches a poor family with an offer to take their children to school, orphanage or find them employment. Many parents who cannot afford basic education for their children are happy to entrust the vulnerable children in the hands of ‘Good Samaritans’ who promise a better future.

Unknown to the parents, this is when child abuse begins. The Budaka pastor allegedly registered 12 children between the ages of eight and 14, promising them formal education. He now faces charges of human trafficking. A related incident was reported early this month when police in Budaka arrested a 25-year-old man for allegedly attempting to sell his daughter, 13, at Shs3 million!

The widespread child trafficking incidents mostly targeting poor rural families make it difficult to put exact figures to the problem, thus complicating efforts to fight it. Some organisations masquerading as church-based NGOs register children as orphans to get money from donors. Such children are brought to urban areas and end up working as house helps for families who pay the NGOs.

Last year, 76 children aged between four and 16, were rescued from suspected human traffickers in Kitgum District. Some 25 children were also rescued last year on Buvuma Island. These child trafficking victims endure detestable acts of child labour, exploitation, violation and abuse, including rape — dreadful acts our children should never encounter.

We must invest in basic protection of children by empowering communities to cooperate with the government, NGOs, and law enforcers to ensure children are protected from traffickers. With relevant laws, sustained education and empowerment of communities, ending child trafficking is possible.