Government and children advocates have expressed worries about the increasing child trafficking and sexual exploitation cases across the country.
Child trafficking is common in the impoverished Karamoja region with a staggering 400-900 children, of which 90% of these are girls.
According to the US Department of State, 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: Uganda, there are between 7,000 to 12,000 children exploited in sex trafficking in Uganda. An international organization and NGO reported that most internal trafficking victims are Ugandans, many of whom are from the northeastern region, specifically Karamojong children
It’s against this background, that the office of the prime minister in charge of Karamoja Affairs in conjunction with children civil society organizations advocates, held a national dialogue to find possible solutions to child trafficking.
Speaking at a National dialogue on Ending Child Trafficking in Uganda under the theme “Taking stock of Trafficking in Persons Response: Are we doing enough?”, state Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and refugees, Esther Davinia Anyakun said government has to enforce the early childhood education programs in Karamoja region to help young ones to start Education before becoming a burden to their parents and seeing them as assets.
This is also in line with a suggestion by a section of MPs from Karamoja sub-region calling for a fundamental strategy to ensure there is compulsory free education for all Karamojong children for at least 10 years to reduce child trafficking and early marriages in the region.
They explain that trafficking of children from Karamoja remains a social challenge regardless of interventions by government and other civil societies to address the vice.
Anyakun who is also the woman Member of Parliament for Nakapiripirit District explained that keeping children in school would help enlighten them and reduce the chances of being trafficked.
“A very big generation from around 18-30 years did not go to school….. so we gave a suggestion to President Museveni when he came to the region 2 weeks ago that we can have a fundamental strategy where we would be in position of having full compulsory free education for all Karamojong children for at least 10 years, what are up to, is trying to close that vacuum, by the time we finish ten years with all these children in school, am telling you the issue of children in the streets, the issue of insecurity and all the challenges even child marriage will at least come down because people will now be engaged in so many things,” said Anyakun.
When these children reach Kampala and other urban towns they are engaged in activities such as street begging and winnowing cereals in downtown markets daily.
Reports in Karamoja sub-region indicate that many of these children are sold in cattle markets or by intermediaries and forced into situations of domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, herding, and begging in the streets of most towns in Uganda.
It is against this background that Minister Anyakun also tasked Ugandans not to offer support to children on the streets, adding denying them support will eventually force them off the streets.
Meanwhile, James Yesiga, the country manager of Terre Des Hommes Netherlands Uganda chapter, the organizers of this national dialogue, revealed that cases of child sexual exploitation, child trafficking and unsafe migration are on the rise in Uganda, thus urging for serious intervention from the government.
Yesiga blamed some parents there for being behind trafficking of children for personal gains
“The numbers of children coming on to the streets and being trafficked is increasing and it seems that back at home these children either lack proper parenting or lack basic needs, so they look for ways to survive beyond their homes and it is not helping that some of the parents especially in Karamoja region are actually pushing their children to look for survival which makes them extremely vulnerable, ” said Yesiga .
He further noted those in the business of child trafficking simply go to rural areas, look for children to pay parents whatever little amount of money they can pay and then bring them to Kampala and even Nairobi to do all sorts of work ranging from begging on the streets to sexual exploitation.
As a child rights advocate, Yesiga said that there is also a challenge of poor enforcement whereby the law enforcement officers are not apprehending the traffickers at the pace the practice of child trafficking is happening.
“In some cases we have seen collusion between some security agencies and some of the traffickers, giving them a leeway to continue with the illicit business”-Yesiga observed.