Street Children: The lot forgotten by legislation implementers

Agnes Ndaaba

What you need to know:

  • Children in conflict. Does it cross the legislator’s mind that by making the giving out of handouts an offence, we possibly shall see an increase in the statics of children in conflict with the law as they try to make ends meet?

According to a publication, ‘A summary of the global issue of street children and homeless children’, the United Nations gives an estimate of up to 150 million street children in the world.

In 1992, the United Nations issued a Resolution on the plight of street children, expressing concern over the emergence and marginalisation of street children, and the acts of violence against them. The resolution called for international cooperation to address the needs of homeless children and for enforcement of international child rights laws.

Civil society organisations in Uganda called for a law that curbs the continuous movement of children from their respective homes to city streets, pursuant to which, and probably coupled with other factors, the “Kampala Child Protection Ordinance 2019” was passed criminalising children loitering in public places, begging or soliciting, vending or hawking, banning the sale of alcohol and drugs to children, and making it an offence to offer money, food or clothing to children living on the streets of capital.

At a public dialogue to commemorate the International day for street children whose theme was: “If the world was listening, what would you say?” Anselm Wandega, the executive director, African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN) – Uganda said: “Some of these children and families that come to the streets are motivated by the handouts they get from the public and that is why some of them come back to the streets even after being reintegrated back to their families. We call upon KCCA to enact ordinances stopping the giving of handouts to these children, and by this, we will curb the trafficking of children for economic exploitation.”

Motivation by the handouts, which probably are their means of survival and the only way they can have an enjoyment of their right to food albeit in an “unacceptable manner” shouldn’t be the problem here much as banning the giving out of handouts is not the solution to what society looks at as a problem or the solution to injustices against the child.

I would like to assume that due regard was given to why children end up on the streets. Children move from their homes to live on the streets due to political turmoil and wars, loss of parents, children fleeing domestic violence/separation and abject poverty, persecution of particular social groups, natural disasters, exploitation, family expectations, threats of early or forced marriages among others, and it is only when these reasons are appreciated that the issue of street children can be addressed.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises that in all countries of the world, there are children living in exceptionally difficult conditions, and that such children need special consideration. The CRC recognises three broad- based categories of rights relevant to the circumstances of the street child, namely protection, provision and participation. Children should be protected from neglect, abuse and exploitation; Children should be provided with shelter, education and medical care; and children should be granted an enabling active participation in society.

Uganda domesticated the CRC in 1996 by enacting the Children Act (Cap 59). This Act takes into account all the rights provided to children both under the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the CRC and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the African Child. One can confidently say the Children Act is the best advocate there is in Uganda’s legal and justice system of children’s rights, articulating the welfare or best interest principle as of paramount importance when dealing with matters that involve the protection of children’s rights and well-being.

So, if the world was listening, would we say the Kampala Ordinance is alive to the spirit of the Constitution and the Children Act? Does it create a healthy balance between the protection, provision and participation pillars the CRC advocates for? The protection of children from exploitation and sexual violence is commendable, but what has been put in place to provide for the basic needs of this child, one of the reasons they were on the street in the first place?

Does it cross the legislator’s mind that by making the giving out of handouts an offence, we possibly shall see an increase in the statics of children in conflict with the law as they try to make ends meet? Has any authority sought alternative care for these children if the conditions at home are not within their best interests?

How about the orphaned child who has absolutely no one back home to provide for them? When proven that the child has been exposed to domestic violence and that is the reason they ran away from home, have the perpetrators been apprehended so as to create a healthy environment for the child to live in? These are just a few of the many questions that arise.

With all due respect to the proponents of the Ordinance, we already have more than enough in our legislation to address the issue of street children, be it for provision, protection and participation. The only thing needed is the proper implementation of legislation.

Ms Ndaaba is a Disaster Law Project manager
& In-House Legal Counsel, Uganda Red Cross
[email protected]

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