Street Children and Community Outreach

A community is a social unit, often times cohesive, often times not. Today, street children in Uganda form part of a non-cohesive social unit. Street children came to be part of this unit due to complex and various over-lapping causes and factors. This blog looks towards these factors in trying to understand the migration of children into streets. Understanding is a step towards transforming the community into an unequivocal ally of street children. The blog reviews published literature and secondary sources and highlights the role of the community in improving the lives of street children.

The Majority of research studies are conducted in the capital, Kampala. However, on viewing newspaper articles[i] and some research studies[ii] conducted in Northern Uganda, it appears that some parallels may be drawn.  At the onset it is important to distinguish between full-time street children and part-time children. This is because often times the patterns and reasons for migration to the streets are different for these two different categories.[iii] Young (2004) defines ‘full-time’ street children as those who are ‘independently living and working on the streets’, whereas ‘part-time’ street children only spend some of their time on the streets.

The contexts in which children migrate can be far and wide, e.g. labour migration where children move independently in search of employment or forced migration due to situations caused by conflict and war.[iv] In terms of children migrating to the streets, researchers[v] place prominence on the role of the social, economic and political situation of the child’s family and community circumstances. Since the early 1970’s children have been seen on the streets in Uganda; the ‘market boys’ of 1970s[vi], those in the early 1980s attributable to civil war casualties and famine [vii] and in the 1990s due to changing economic opportunities in urban areas[viii].

 In recent years, a multi-method study conducted by Young (2004) in order to understand the geographies of 273 street children in Kampala tabulated the reasons for street migration to Kampala from neighbouring areas. The table can be seen below.

Reasons for Street Migration                                                                Percentage

(As stated by children)                                                                         (N= 273)


Mistreatment                                                                                        34.6

Mistreated by guardian                                                                          17.5

Mistreated by parent                                                                             14.4

Fear of being beaten                                                                              2.7

Poverty                                                                                                25.7

No school fees                                                                                      5.5

Poverty caused a search for work                                                           20.2

Death                                                                                                  20.6

Death of parents                                                                                   20.6

Behaviour                                                                                            8.6

Stubborn behaviour                                                                              6.6

Committed criminal activity in the village                                               2.0

Other                                                                                                  10.6

Peer Pressure                                                                                       5.5

Attracted to the city                                                                              3.9

War/insurgency                                                                                    0.8

Witchcraft                                                                                           0.4

Three major negative factors stand out in the table- Mistreatment by either parent or guardian, poverty and resource related issues and death of a parent. Thus it is immediate familial circumstances that influence the decision of children to migrate to the streets. These familial circumstances and those in their communities can be attributed the impact of poverty, HIV/AIDS, macroeconomic problems and internal conflict[ix]. Sometimes one or more of these reasons may be overlapping. Thus, to fully understand how these children came to be in the streets, an inquiry must be made into why their journey began.

Making the community aware of this background and context is likely to create an awareness whereby these multiple causes can be given multiple responses. Looking to these children as delinquents or merely as “problems” of the community in which they reside is unlikely to bring about any meaningful change or progress. Community involvement is called for through utilization of its resources and development of a system for collective action leading to the improvement of the lives of street children. For example, pledging support to local foundations working to rescue and rehabilitate street children or by making donations to these organizations. Recognizing that these children have rights as part of the community and assisting the local government authorities and non-governmental organizations in achievement of these rights.  But  most importantly contributing to the reintegration of these children into the community is the need of the day. Grounded in the awareness of the reasons behind migration of children to the street, the community can bring about far reaching and long-lasting effects.


[ii] Weber, A. (2013). Challenges Affecting Street Children in Post-Conflict Northern Uganda: Case

of Gulu Municipality ; Munene, J. C., & Nambi, J. (1996). Understanding and helping street children in Uganda1. Community Development Journal31(4), 343-350.

[iii] Young, L. (2004). Journeys to the street: the complex migration geographies of Ugandan street children. Geoforum35(4), 471-488.

[iv] Ibid

[v] Bar-On, A. (1997). Criminalising survival: images and reality of street children. Journal of Social Policy26(01), 63-78.

[vi] Naliwaiko, A. (1990). The bag boys: Nakasero market boys.

[vii] Anyuru, M. A. (1996). Uganda's street children. Africa Insight26(3), 268-275.

[viii] Munene, J. C., & Nambi, J. (1993). Operational Research on Street Children.Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Kampala.

[ix] Young, L. (2004). Journeys to the street: the complex migration geographies of Ugandan street children. Geoforum35(4), 471-488.