When residents in Akwang Sub-county, Kitgum District sent their children to Active Blessing Uganda, a non-governmental organisation, they believed they would get an education and live a better life.
They were told that the organisation had been soliciting funds from donors and would assist their children.
That bubble burst when these parents found out their children were instead being denied basic rights and exploited. In total, 76 children, aged between four and 16 years, have been rescued from the alleged human traffickers.
Their plight was brought up by concerned residents complaining about the presence of sick children in Abudere village.
It is alleged that Mr Patrick Omony, a resident of Lemo South in Kitgum Town Council and also coordinator of Active Blessing Uganda, together with Abudere village LC I chairperson Valentino Oyet, connived and kept the children under the guise of giving them an education.
According to the officer in-charge of Kitgum Central Police Station, Mr Jackson Barya, Mr Omony and Mr Oyet have been arrested for child trafficking.
Active Blessing Uganda was an organisation that started in 2009.
The Akwang Sub-county chairperson, Mr Peter Oola, says in November last year, Mr Omony made a memorandum of understanding between him and the district that permits him to take care of 93 children in Kitgum and Lamwo districts.
The agreement stated that Mr Omony would get and take care of orphans and children born in captivity during the LRA insurgency. However, this is not what has been happening.
Ms Sarafina Alal, 80, and her daughter Molly Aringo, 30, have been the caretakers of the children under the instructions of Mr Omony.
Ms Alal says five of the children have since died of natural causes and were buried there.
“I started keeping a few of them from 2009, but the number kept on increasing as Mr Omony recruited more children from within the community, saying they are orphans and ex-child soldiers or children abandoned in the camps,” she says.
Kitgum District vice chairperson Titus Oryema says majority of the children are malnourished, have been subjected to child labour, commercial exploitation, and begging, for their sustainability.
One child said they always herd cattle, do domestic work for other people in return for food and when they fall sick, they are not cared for. She added that they have meals in shifts, where the bigger children at times forego meals for the sake of the younger ones.
“We have not been allowed to move in other villages for fear that some of us might sneak and go back to our parents. We always had someone guarding us when doing community work,” she says.
Mr Albert Atube, one of the parents, says Mr Omony always prevented them from visiting and threatened that their children might be stopped from benefiting from the organisation.
Mr Oryema accuses the community of not informing authorities about the plight of the children.
“Community development officers in this area will be interrogated on this matter. How can they work with the community and fail to identify this problem?” He asked.
Mr Oyet, however, denies any involvement in the matter, saying that he only knew about the children a few months ago.
Mr James Onen, a legal officer at African Network for Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect, Kitgum Branch, says they will take care of the children briefly as they take them through counseling and rehabilitation.
Mr Barya says investigations are ongoing.