Law enforcement officers in Uganda descend onto the streets of cities in a campaign to rescue the children who live and work on them. Many of these children are victims of child trafficking and live a life where they are abused and exploited. However, in the efforts to save these children, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine who the real street children are.
Their methods of identification are crude at best.
Children on holiday from school who are helping their parents in the market can be mistaken for street children. Women who pretend to be the mothers of street children they have kidnapped can convince officials that they are the child’s real parents, as well as alert other street children of the crackdown so that they can remain out of sight.
Many real street children are able to vacate the city centre and disappear into unknown hideouts. Most of the children whom the authorities were targeting remained out of reach; while there have been reports of other children being separated from their real families as authorities struggle to determine who the real street children are.
The women who operate the street child rackets are involved in trafficking children from Karamoja into the city. The majority of the street kids sleep on verandas while a few who save some of their money during the day are able to afford cheap accommodation in the suburbs for the night.
In the first operation carried out by authorities, only 70 out of the estimated 5,000 street children were taken from the street.
Some of these children were placed in children’s homes for orphaned and abandoned children, which will serve as a transit centres where the children will stay as authorities seek to determine who they are and where they are coming from.
It is the hope of government authorities that those who are from other regions of the country will be reunited with their families. They also hope to better determine those who are in their custody who are not street children.
It remains to be seen how effective this method of street raids and targeted operations will be. Targeting the networks of child traffickers and those who abuse the children who are trafficked must also be a part of any initiative to stop the exploitation of children.