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Second chance for Uganda’s street children

Dozens of children and adults have found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of begging and scavenging on the streets of Uganda’s capital.Many poor children and adults from the African country’s travelling Karamajong culture in the north east are lured to the streets of Kampala in search of a better life. But in reality many struggle to survive in such a hostile environment.

John Bosco Abura endured two traumatic years on the streets of Kampala after raiders killed his father in 2001 and took all the cattle away from the family’s home in Kotido.  “I went to Kampala with my mother in 2004,” the 15 year-old told the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “My mother thought we would have a better life in the city.” But after further hardship both mother and son found themselves forced to beg and scavenge just to survive. “Life in Kampala was very hard,” said Abura. Things got worse when Abura’s mother was killed by a taxi. Aged only 10 years-old, he was alone, forced to give money to street gang leaders for food and shelter and severely beaten if he couldn’t come up with the cash. Finally, in November 2007, Abura’s ordeal ended when he, along with hundreds of other Karamajong children and adults, were taken off the streets and brought to a UNICEF centre. Now after returning from his harsh life, Abura, is enrolled at Kapuat Primary School.

Now many more unaccompanied children like Abura are being resettled and UNICEF is helping other aid organisations teach communities about the real dangers of migrating to the cities. They make sure returnees get basic supplies such as food, accommodation and medical treatment. They also train social workers who help people resettle into the community. Children are enrolled in schools that have taken Karamajong children returning from Kampala. “Those who were sent back to Karamoja in 2007 say they went to Kampala to escape famine and insecurity,” says John Bosco Ngoya, a priest who has worked in Karamoja since 1986.  Abura is happy with his new life and studying hard in school. “I want to work hard and become a bank manager because I am good at mathematics,” he says. Returning to Kampala is the furthest thing on his mind. “I don’t want any of my friends to suffer the way I did in Kampala, so I tell them not to go to the city,” he said.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children