By Beatrice Akoth Obbo.
Kampala is a city built on seven hills with areas of open space and trees in and around the city. But amidst all the beauty lives the problem of street children.
As the day breaks, while their counterparts prepare for school, street children shiver under the cardboard boxes they use for protection against the cold on the verandas where they spend their nights. For breakfast they meet at the large rubbish bins where they compete with cats, vultures and marabou storks for the day’s share of food.
They begin their day by begging. They wait on Kampala’s main street by the post office, to try their luck on passersby. When peaceful means of begging fail, the children resort to harassment – running after pedestrians, holding onto their hands, clothes, bags until they are given something. When an opportunity comes, they pickpocket.
At the main Owino market the children walk around selling polythene bags for shopping. The boys carry shopping for payment. Girls find it harder to sell their labour so they are usually only left with the option of offering their bodies for a living. They are exposed to the greed of men who take advantage of their circumstances to force them into sex (in most cases unprotected) in exchange for something to eat or somewhere to stay at night. Sometimes these men give them a little money which they invest in small businesses like selling roasted groundnuts, soyabeans, sweets and bananas.
Late at night the children make fires near the rubbish bins to help them keep warm while they eat opium, smoke marijuana and sniff solvents in paints and glue. These practices help them endure the difficult conditions they have to live in.
Uganda has not yet begun to look seriously at the problems these children face. The traditional strong African family structure has meant that until recently there were no unwanted children. Most find themselves on the streets as a result of civil war and the AIDS scourge that hit Uganda leaving many orphans.
Beatrice Obbo’s address is PO Box 7009, Kampala, Uganda.