An article publish on Italian newspaper La Repubblica on street children in Uganda, bring the attention to the risk of diffuse information not verified that become political exploitation. Strange that the first casualty of West disinformation is always the African continent …
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica on 19 July 2014, published on the “human rights” sector an article about Ugandan street children, based on a report by the American NGO in defense of human rights: Human Rights Watch. The article (Uganda, hell of street children: beaten and abused by adults and police) describes a horror movie scenario, where sadistic and perverse Ugandan policemen torture street children with the complicity of the authorities. According to Italian journalist author of the article, the street children are often victims of raids organized by police and government officials, including those from the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). Picked up from the street children would be tortured, robbed and detained in cells where they suffer further beatings and would be treated as slaves. Street children would also be victims of violence and mass rapes perpetrated by the Ugandan citizens with the complicity of the police who does not punish the perpetrators of these violence.
The reporter mentions the efforts of the Government of Uganda to address the protection of minors and the international conventions on the protection of children signed by Uganda, but it stress that local and regional authorities are still not able to stop the abuse of police and government. Fortunately, the scenario described by the journalist of Italian newspaper La Repubblica does not exist in Uganda, a country where I live and work at least 15 years. There is the phenomenon of street children and the conditions of these children are not the most optimistic. Most of these children are coming from Karamajon tribe of Karamoja and, in a lesser entity by Acholi tribe of northern Uganda. These children, from age 02 to 14 years are the first victims of their parents that turn them into real sources of income, forcing them to beg at traffic lights and in the main streets of Kampala, where the phenomenon is concentrated. The exploitation of children is also run by the local mafia who buy these children from poor but unscrupulous families.
Forced to live on the street, these children when they reach the age of 10, 12 years try to get their independence by forming own youth gangs dedicated to bet, petty theft and prostitution, crimes that require the intervention of the police and justice. An intervention that is far from the one described in the article. Local police authorities personally contacted, assure that there is no inhuman treatment towards street children. According to Erasmus Twaruhukwa, responsible of Police Human Rights Directorate, the officers are not directly responsible for violence to street children. There have been cases of abuses committed by police officers who were punished according to law. The information received by Police has been confirmed by the City Council of Kampala (KCCA) and independent lawyers. Several Ugandan journalists confirm that the systematic violation of human rights carried out by police and government information is an altered news, dismissing the article that appeared in the Italian newspaper as “Balckmail” against Uganda.
Although the situation of street children is far from this Dante’s Inferno scenario is certainly not rosy. Despite its commitments the Government is demonstrating an inability to solve the problem and the financial resources available are often inadequate. The Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center, the juvenile prison is in very poor condition, as documented by an Italian photo reporter: Damiano Rossi leaving in the country. In Uganda there are four remand house for street children or young convicted of crime around the country: Kampala, Naguru, Mbale and Fort Portal. Unlucky all of them are unsuitable for juveniles because of under-staffing and poor facilities. Ugandan citizens attitude towards street children (well away from mass violence and rapes) are deleterious however: these children are simply ignored.
This approach, totally inadequate, has been subject of journalistic investigations carried out by the major national media including the New Vision, Daily Monitor and NTV-Uganda (a popular private television network owned by the Aga Khan magnate).
These investigations have prompted the Ministry of Labour and Social Development to create a partnership with the police to nip the problem at the root, by acting on the development of Karamojon and Acholi communities and trying to dismantle the mafia network that handles the street children. Investigations including six reports broadcast in June by NTV-Uganda during the evening news at 09 p.m.: “Children of Karamoja” show in a professional and detached way the exploitation network that starts from the same families but they don’t report any violence or human rights violations committed by the police, despite the fact that the editorial group of the Aga Khan (Daily Monitor and NTV-Uganda) are ruthless “watch dog” on government failures, and promptly reported to act as a sounding drum for the opposition.
Not even the main opposition party Forum for Democratic Change – FDC has never denounced violence and abuses committed by the police on street children, not for self-censorship or fear of a hypothetical dictatorial regime, but for the simple reason that the news doesn’t corresponds with the reality. “In case there are no juvenile cells at police station, the children are referred to other stakeholders like local councils and courts. We make sure that children who commit pretty offences are not detained but diverted or referred according to the guidelines outlined in the Children’s Act” Erasmus Twaruhukwa said to regional magazine “The East African“.
On the contrary, the media report a worrying growing phenomenon: human sacrifice. The work of journalistic inquire is a pillar of democracy and information only if it is implemented seriously and supported by verified documentation. In the case of the article published in La Repubblica the essential verification is missing. The Italian journalist has obviously no contact local sources and he/she lack of knowledge of the country. He/she simply report an inquire done by HWR without verification. This American association is affected suspicions of propaganda and linked to With House guidelines on foreign policy.
Famous the HRW reports on the Congolese rebel group M23 and against Rwanda, for the most part inaccurate and politically oriented. The American NGO says that the report on street children is based on interviews conducted in seven cities in the country that involved 130 street children. Carefully reading the report you will notice the same methodology used by HRW in other reports: the total lack of reliable sources. Witness are always anonymous as well as experts or organizations cited to support the HRW thesis. This unprofessional methodology is normally reject by experts in the field and classified as not credible because accusations that they should open international investigation are based on anonymous witnesses and sources. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) publishing HWR report on the website Refworld distanced itself from the publication of Maria Burnett, senior researcher of HWR for Africa, stating that UNHCR is not responsible for the accuracy of the content and not necessarily the views expressed in the report reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations and the State Members.
This specification is usually adopted by UN agencies on reports that address sensitive issues but of which they are not sure of impartiality and methodology used to collect data and testimonials. The report, also published by the BBC and CNN, finds no evidence in the reports of associations for the protection of children from Uganda, various other international NGOs such as Child Fund, Child Hope UK, Deaf Child Worldwide, Horizont3000, Oak Foundation, Save the Children International and the main international donors, raising doubts about his credibility. ANPPCAN, an important association in defense of Ugandan street children reported that 10,000 children live on the streets of the main cities in the country with a particular concentration in Kampala. Their number has increased by 70% since 2009. Association, recognized as a serious and competent by most humanitarian partners and international donors, lists the serious problems facing street children without mention violence or human rights violations carried out by police and government.
In contrast ANPPCAN works closely with the police, judiciary, social services and the government. He is also one of the actor of the code of conduct towards street children adopted in 2010 by Ugandan police and has a meticulous monitoring system to verify the proper and daily application of the code of conduct. ANPPCAN not even state mass violence committed by the Ugandan population. On the contrary, urges the public not to give money or food to children in order to don’t encourage them to remain in the streets. ANPPCAN asks to the citizens to report any situation of abuse and to cooperate with voluntary associations, International NGOs and Ugandan government to solve the problem through the social recovery of these children.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga states that the report of HWR is inaccurate and contains specific policy aimed at discrediting the government of Uganda. “The majority of children who accuse the police of violence are in reality well known youth criminals involved in petty thefts or assaults during the night. When they are arrested they are managed according to the protocols of government for juvenile offenders who certainly did not include torture or sexual abuse “says Fred Enanga to the Catholic weekly The Observer. The Ugandan police has several shortcomings and is famous for having the heavy hand especially with the opposition but is not included in the list of African police guilty of serious and systematic violations of human rights. Lately the police have launched a series of operations against female genital mutilation in the region of Karamoja arresting 13 people in the villages of Lonyilik and Tapac in Moroto district.
The repressive action against this illegal practice in Uganda is supported by a work of social sensibilisation and information aimed at local communities and carried out in close collaboration with associations, NGOs and the United Nations. I asked to Ugandan journalists and activists in defense of childhood their opinion about the article publish on La Repubblica. All confirm to me the official version of the police. Faced with this evidence it remains to think about a gigantic and well organized Government conspiracy involving, national and international associations, the United Nations and the media in order to reinforce HWR arguments about street children in Uganda. Unlucky to do so we come inside of the field of conspiracy theories that are the opposite of the correct information. Other serious problems are faced by street children according to the direct testimony collected personally in Kampala these days. Street children interviewed accusing the police of indifference but they don’t mention violence and arbitrary arrests. They affirm that the majority of rapes are perpetrated by youth gangs and mafia networks that attempts to manage the lucrative market of the street children. Starting from 12-yea r-old the girls are often forced into prostitution.
The main fear of the street children interview is about the occult phenomenon of human sacrifice. “We are victims of criminals who kidnap us for magic rites involving human sacrifice” explains Lisa, 12 years originally from Karamoja. The phenomenon of human sacrifice has emerged thanks to the Ugandan police reports and investigation drawn up in 2009 that spoke of above 232 suspected cases registered in Kampala and neighboring districts. The phenomenon is created by “witchdoctors” (sorcerers) and relates to wealthy clients. Under the promise of untold riches and fortunes the witchdoctors ask to their client the sacrifice of a child. In turn, the client hires criminals to kidnap the children and take them to the witchdoctor who proceeds with the macabre and criminal ritual. Sometimes criminals who receive the task to kidnap the street children are youth gangs of street children aged 14 – 17, the same that may have become witnesses of HWR report. Street children are the favorite victims of human sacrifices because are more vulnerable and there is less risk of police investigation. No family member or citizen will notice and denounce their disappearance…
To combat the problem, the police, in cooperation with the media and local NGOs as RACHO, ANPPCAN, Kyampisi Childcare Ministries and Rose’s Jorney, has launched various sensibiliation campaigns. Between 2010 and 2014, the police have arrested more than 135 suspects of this heinous crime between them witchdoctors ,”respectable” and wealthy businessmen and criminals who have kidnapped children. Among them, 82 were trial and convicted for kidnapping and murder. The national media attention to human sacrifices and the conditions of street children force police and government to increase their efforts to eradicate both the phenomena, the first through repressive judicial measures, the second through the recovery and the fight against poverty within the community Karamojon and Acholi. The article appeared in La Repubblica makes a great disservice to the correct information, affecting the image of a country and undermines the efforts of the Italian Government to strengthen economic cooperation with Uganda, one of the major economic powers in the region and future producer country of oil.
This classic case of misinformation could be avoided by adopting a strategy that provides professional investigative journalist verification on report HWR, contacting the blamed authorities and involving the Ugandan and international associations in defense of children and street children. This would allow to fully understand the sad phenomenon of street children and to offer the Italian public opinion a balanced information about this sad social problem, avoiding to publish article of disinformation that borders on slander. But, as is known in the journalistic environment, it is more convenient and easier to write articles copying a few sentences taken from “authoritative” sources without going deeply into the argument. Poor copy and paste activity leads to write articles without a thorough knowledge, research and verification. It would have been more profitable if the author of the article had spent a few weeks in Uganda to understand the reality. The Republic would offer an excellent, balanced and thorough report on the situation of street children in Uganda instead of a gossip article.
For accurate information on the subject is recommended the report situation of street children in Uganda 2013 prepared by the association ANPPCAN downloaded in PDF format at:
The identities of the street children interviewed by the undersigned may be disclosed to news organizations or associations only on written request, and on official signed commitment to don’t use these identities for non-journalistic and information purposes, in order to protect the privacy of children .
The photo was kindly offered by Damiano Rossi photo reporter that has recently made a report at the juvenile detention center in Kampala Uganda.