A documentary on child beggars in Kisenyi – A step closer…….

The government of Uganda prides itself by saying; it’s the pearl of Africa. However, I beg to disagree. The government of Uganda has to do a great deal of house cleaning before the rest of us can effectively begin to appreciate their overtures.

This is a sad story of life in the streets of (Uganda) Kampala…and how children have been made the bread-winners. The children are not direct beneficiaries of the money collected. They are trapped in pain and are acquainted with grief and misfortune.

Kisenyi (slum) is less than a quarter of a mile from the centre of Kampala. Poor living conditions are a major problem besides unemployment, social and health. The area has a clatter of small shacks – housing more than 400 Karamonjong families. These shacks don’t come cheap. It costs an adult 500 shillings and a child 300 shilling per night!

A few years ago Kampala city streets had mainly the sight of people with disability as beggars. However, not any more - all that has changed with the arrival of the Karamonjong community. They have employed the services of children to beg on their behalf in broad day light….and not to mention the scorching heat. No food is provided while on duty!

The trade has been perfected by Karimojong women, who have flocked Kampala with their begging children. The women strategically place the children along the streets to catch the attention of passers-by for any probable donation.

When ignored, they sometimes follow up the pedestrians. As if to exploit all opportunities, they also close in onto vehicles during heavy traffic jam/s to beg from those travelling. According to one of the many representatives of the Karimojong community in Kampala, he said - the Karimojong women use children between the ages of 2 – 8 as beggars because they attract more sympathy than adults. Some children are specifically transported from their native land – Moroto to beg on the streets of Kampala. There is no point begging in Moroto because they are all poor!

As if they are subjected to a pre-begging training session, the Karimojong street children request for money in such a beseeching manner that most of the passers-by usually leave them with their spare change. Unlike other beggars who use cups and plates, the Karimojong children use their hands to collect the donations. Underneath the crumbled t-shits, a slim neck (travel) wallet is securely tied with minimal bulk under clothing. At a distance a guardian is watching the child and the donor activity. The child is summoned when three or more people have donated. The child runs with haste - total humility and obedience straight to her. The guardian collects the money and orders the child back to her/his position. The day is extremely long and the heat and dust overwhelming. They work from 8:00am to 10:00pm.

When I challenged them about child abuse; they categorically denied any child abuse exists - and assured me they loved their children very much. As far as they are concerned, the children are merely helping the parents financially. The children are bread-winners!

Several attempts by the Police and Kampala City Council (KCC) to round up the Karimojong street children and their 'employers' in the city have seemed fruitless as they keep coming back. According to officials in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, women in Karamoja hire out their children to Kampala-bound colleagues to be used as street beggars at a fee.

Force has been used in few occasions to repatriate the Karimojong who refuse to peacefully return to their home region. However, the moment they are dropped at their native Moroto, they catch another coach back to Kampala. The number of children begging is steadily rising, an indicator that some could have returned or more have come.

The government of Uganda is either in a state of denial of the existence of the problem or they simply do not want to know.

Resettling street children is a complex issue which requires all stakeholders to come on board. The challenge is that these children require basic needs like food, education, medicine and security. NGO’s and small charities are doing their best to help, but a few. The government of Uganda needs come out firmly to protect the rights of orphaned and vulnerable children. Many children become vulnerable due to poverty, loss of parents and insecurity in their areas.

To stop the influx of Karamajong children coming to Kampala to beg, the government has to improve living conditions in their native Moroto. There is no point sending people to places that are lacking in bare necessities. Moroto is poverty stricken; there is no housing, and no food.

For decades, the Karimojong have been depending on food handouts largely supplied by the World Food Programme, and thus very few are willing to work on their own. This is largely the reason they are beggars. The Karimojong do not only beg from Kampala, but also Mbale, Busia and Jinja towns.

But with the Museveni administration's uneven record on implementation and a history of corruption, some observers are less than optimistic the push and pull factors are going to be thoroughly addressed anytime soon.

 

With hardly any prospects for income or incentives in their home villages, many beggars end up back on the streets. The government is mopping while all the taps are left running. The problem is not going to get better unless the government addresses the problem.

 

The push and pull factors have to be more thoroughly addressed. Efforts to improve conditions in Karamoja have not been adequate, with many beggars still finding better income prospects on Kampala's streets.

 

….watch this space…..!