Uganda Implicated for Homeless Children Rights Violation


The Human Rights Watch report released today (Thursday) accuses Ugandan Authorities of failing to protect homeless children against Police brutality, stomach noting that street children throughout the country’s urban centers face violence, more about physical and sexual abuse.

The 71-page report, titled “Where Do You Want Us to Go? Abuses Against Street Children in Uganda,” documents human rights violations against street children by Police, Local Government officials, older homeless children and other members of society.

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The report points fingers at police and Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) as lead tormentors of homeless children as they are alleged to have beaten, extorted money and arbitrarily detained street children after targeted roundups. In police cells children have faced further beatings and forced labor, including cleaning the cells and police living quarters. On the streets, homeless adults and older children harass, threaten, beat, sexually abuse, force drugs upon each other and exploit street children, often with impunity.

“Ugandan authorities should be protecting and helping homeless children, not beating them up or throwing them in police jails with adults,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher. “The government should end arbitrary roundups of street children and protect them from abuse.”

A source that preferred anonymity, narrates that police and other law enforcement officials threaten them at night, and beat them with batons, whips, or wires to extort bribes or as a punishment for vagrancy. Some children hand over whatever small sums they have to avoid further abuse or detention, relenting the fear police and the authorities are a source of violence, not protection.

A 16-year-old boy from Jinja district who has lived on the streets of various towns for seven years told Human Rights Watch, “These police have to give us our rights. They should make us a home where we can be taken, but let it not be a police station, let it not have policemen so that it is not a prison. This is our country too. Let us not be strangers in our own country.”

The report further stressed that several children have been transferred to national remand homes like Naguru or Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center a juvenile detention center for those accused or convicted of crimes but have been voluntarily released back to the streets after several days or weeks in detention without charges.

In May, 2013, in a continued efforts to have a clean city that matches the standards of other cities in the world, Kampala Capital City Authority remanded over 40 street children from the streets of Kampala to Kampiringisa children’s prison, a facility that has been criticized by local nongovernmental organizations and parliament for inadequate staffing and deplorable detention conditions.

The release indicates that Human Rights Watch interviewed over 130 current and former street children between December 2013 and February 2014 in seven major districts in Uganda and 49 organizations providing assistance to street children, health care workers, international humanitarian and children’s organizations, police, and local government officials.

Homeless children also are at risk of beatings and forced drug use from older homeless children or adults. Both boys and girls living on the street reported being raped or sexually assaulted by men and older street boys. In some instances, community members also harass, threaten, beat, and exploit street children. When a suspected or actual theft occurs, communities have converged on street children, occasionally carrying out mob violence.

Organizations working with street children told Human Rights Watch that police do little to investigate crimes against street children. Street children told Human Rights Watch that they rarely reported crimes by their peers or adults to the police for fear of reprisals, or that the police would beat or arrest them instead.

Because street children are often the first suspects for a crime, such as theft, police frequently arrest the children and detain them, often without charge. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and local government officials periodically order general roundups of street children throughout the country. These roundups usually occur ahead of special events, official visits, or international conferences, or are a way for the ministry to be seen to be doing something about the perceived “problem” of street children. The head of the CFPU, a police unit tasked to address child abuse and neglect, told Human Rights Watch that, in Kampala, police are asked to provide security during roundup operations.

“Instead of being able to turn to the police or local government officials for help when they’ve been abused, children find themselves living in fear of the authorities meant to protect them,” Burnett said.

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is charged with protecting children and has created multiple programs and policies intended to protect the rights of vulnerable children. Uganda has also signed a number of regional and international child protection conventions and has put in place a legal framework designed to protect children’s rights, including those of street children. However, key state child protection agencies are failing to respond adequately or effectively to the needs of these children or to stop the abuses at the hands of the police and local authorities.

“Government structures should not just be there in name. They should function. In Kampala, apart from beating them up, the government is doing nothing [for street children]. If all systems were working, you would not see these children suffering.” A local pronounced.

Human Right Watch appealed to the government of Uganda to end roundups and abuses against street children and investigate violence directed at homeless children. Rather than vilifying street children, the government should investigate and prosecute those responsible for abuse, including police and officials. The Uganda Police Force leadership should increase the number of officers working in the Child and Family Protection Unit to ensure there is ample staffing and resources to improve protection of vulnerable and homeless children in all districts.
“The government should ensure that street children have the same rights and protections under domestic, regional, and international standards as all other Ugandan children”

“For children to be effectively protected and cared for, the government should ensure that all children, including those on the streets, can find shelter and get an education,” Burnett said. “They should be treated with dignity and have the opportunity to find a safe way off the streets.”


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