All posts by Our Source

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.

Mother of Children

Foundation MamaWatoto dreams of a world where vulnerable and marginalized people participate in the realization of lasting positive change for themselves and the communities they live in. In the district of Sororti in Northern Uganda, an estimated 150 children spend their lives on the streets. Foundation MamaWatoto and its local partner RICODE with support and funding from Stichting Impulsis and other partners are to initiate a project aimed at rehabilitating and re-integrating street children into the community they live in. The foundation of this project is already underway in the form of identification and mobilization of children who are to benefit directly from the project as well as mobilization of the community at large.

This blog summarily looks to the causes that result in the children living on the streets, the plight of these children, and the conventional response of the state. Finally the blog looks to the vision of foundation MamaWatoto for the project that aims to explore and harmonize the causes behind the issue and not simply cater to the symptoms of it.

“Street Children”

Adopted by the United Nations, a street child is defined as “Any boy or girl who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street (in the broadest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become her or his habitual abode and/or sources of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults”. Observations by UNICEF point towards 4 major reasons that cause children to live on the street, namely, political instabilities, rapid urbanization and increasing disparities in wealth, runaway population growth as well as a breakdown in family values.

For a better part of the last three decades, Northern Uganda has suffered through several internal conflicts in some of its areas. Initiated and sustained by, firstly, the Ugandan People’s Democratic Army (UDPA), then the Holy Spirit Mobile Army (HSMA) of Alice Lakwena, and finally the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. The rebellion proliferated by the Lord’s Resistance Army has been particularly heavy on the children of Uganda. [i]Prior to the war there were no street children in northern Uganda, but today they are visible in all major towns.[ii]

In Uganda, the war affected children lethally; they were kidnapped and forced to become soldiers, beaten, raped and exposed to several atrocities and other inhuman acts. So also, many were orphaned and emerged out of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, many still remained there with nowhere to go. Many yet, have become the “street children” of Uganda.[iii]

The Plight

Majority of the street children in Uganda join the street between 5 and 10 years (44%).  42% joined when they were aged between 11-15 years and 6% when they were aged 16-18 years reveals a situational analysis done by ANPPCAN Uganda in 2015.These children do not have access to basic human necessities such as food and water, clothing and proper hygiene, health care, education and means of livelihood and perhaps the most important to a child, family support.

The need for survival gives way to corruption of an innocent childhood. Deplorable conditions and desperate situations drive these children to resort to drugs, child prostitution and petty crimes. Many of these children have been victimized by defilement and early teenage sexual intercourse, resulting in contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and early unwanted pregnancies. In a personal communication made to researcher Annie Weber[iv], Akol Anthony sums up the challenges faced by these children:

“They lack proper accommodation, clothing, employment opportunity, food. Some survive on milk or one meal a day. They face discrimination; there are a lot of stereotypes. Some people have a negative attitude towards them. The younger ones face bullying from the older ones. They are always beaten. They are arrested from police.

They steal anything valuable. Sometimes they cut the roof of the house and they send the little ones in to steal. But they can’t keep them in prison because there is not enough food to feed them. And they don’t bathe frequently”

Child protection and state responsibility

Children living on the streets in northern Uganda are often discriminated against by the police, local government officials, their own peers and the communities in which they live and work. Settled community views these children as delinquents, nuisance mongers, criminals and substance abusers. The children are often arrested and brutally beaten by the police, sometimes as a pre-emptive measure colored by presuppositions. Once arrested, they may be detained till the time that someone takes responsibility for them. Days can transpire into weeks or months sometimes. Moreover, the conditions under which these children are detained are often harsh.

Instinctively so, the contemporary response is repression.  A report by Human Rights Watch has noted that key government institutions are failing to adequately protect street children. It states as follows:

“The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, charged with child protection, and local government 0fficials periodically order general roundups of street children throughout the country. These roundups usually occur ahead of special events, official visits, international conferences, or are a way for the ministry to be seen to be tackling the perceived “problem” of street children. At various times, police around the country have detained large groups of up to 100 children without charge in police stations with adults. According to knowledgeable sources, these roundups often occur at the behest of the ministry of gender and other officials. Many children are released back to the streets after several days, or in some cases weeks, often only after paying a bribe or being forced to work for the police while in custody, including cleaning.”

Despite of some strong domestic legislations[v], programs and policies[vi] adopted to protect rights of children in Uganda, their effectiveness is still under question. The government seems to have failed to meet its obligation to protect vulnerable children, including children on the streets from abuse by the police, government officials and others. The Uganda Human Rights Commission has also noted that the government’s approach of “resettling and rehabilitating street children without addressing the factors that send children to the streets is an unsustainable solution in the long run” and added that “there is an urgent need to address the causes and not just the symptoms”.


While positive steps have been taken by the government in the form of ratification of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), very little is being done in terms of scrutinizing and assimilating the causes behind the issue. Most of the direct action taken is by Non-Governmental organizations[vii] based locally or in collaboration with international partners.  

Foundation MamaWatoto is one such organization that has rolled its sleeves to contribute with direct action. Working jointly with its local partner RICODE in Soroti, the foundation has launched a sustainable, three-phased, multi-year humanitarian project to continuously protect, support and empower abused and mistreated children and young mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

The foundation is to establish a permanent rehabilitation center for up to 40 children. Environment friendly, this multi-functional facility shall with the help of its qualified staff, create a safe, nurturing and structured living environment for the children. Looking to salve the trauma undergone by the children in the program, the foundation, in possession of three acres of fertile land, will offer mistreated and abused children ‘horticulture therapy’. Recognized as a beneficial and effective therapeutic mechanism, it is used within a wide range of rehabilitative, vocational and community settings. Moreover, the land is to be multi-purpose- therapy, food and self-sustenance and for surplus sales at the on-site store. The proceeds from these sales are to be reinfused into the program.

The goal of the program is to enable its participants to become independent and reintegrate into their community as its well-functioning member. With this in view, the foundation, working in consort with the local government and their vocational training program “Skilling Uganda”, shall determine appropriate vocational training courses for the children. These include bricklaying and concrete practice, carpentry and joinery, hair dressing etc. Set to be complete at thirty-six months, after a series of assessments, the participants are encouraged to find a footing in the community making way for new children to share the same opportunity to receive rehabilitative care, vocational training and support.



[i] Doom, R., & Vlassenroot, K. (1999). KOny’s Message: A new Koine? The Lord’s Resistance Army

in Northern Uganda, African Affairs (Oxford Journals/ Royal African Society), 98(390), 5-



[ii] Amone, C., & Anenocan, J. (2014). Armed Violence and Street Children in Northern Uganda,

1986 To 2014. Asian Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities Vol3, 3.


[iii] Ruaudel, H., & Timpson, A. (2005). Northern Uganda–from a forgotten war to an unforgivable

crisis–the war against children. Institute for Security Studies.


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

of Gulu Municipality.


[v] The Children Act- Chapter 59, The Employment Act 2008, The National Council for Children

Act- Chapter 60


[vi] National Strategic Programme Plan of Interventions for Orphans and Other Vulnerable



[vii]RETRAK (, Watoto Foundation ( , The Street Child Project (  etc.