Story By: Frederick H
In an article published in The New vision, Uganda’s leading daily news paper, on 4th May 2018 the author Maria Wamala shared the following facts. According to a research done in four urban centers; Kampala, Jinja, Mbale and Busia. Bernard Atiku, the Chairperson parliamentary children’s forum said, “…15,000 children are living on the streets and are a security time bomb for the country if they are not helped to become better future citizens.” Take a walk through busy streets in these mentioned centers, you will be left with no option but to believe the given fact. In other instances, most especially in the evening, during the rush hours, you will be convinced that they are more than the number given by the research. The majority of these, are girls of school going age who have come from distant regions such as Karomoja. It is very common to see a group of three to four young girls on the streets of Kampala, walking from car to car, with babies tied on their backs, begging for money to cater for their needs for the day. Each passing day they wake up to the same routine which involves, sleeping rough and living rough no matter the weather. Circumstances may vary from one urban center to another, but the underlying factor is the same – children who are meant to be under the care of their parents in homes are on the streets begging their way into survival. In my quest to find out how girls on the streets live, I talked to three girls, Suzan-19, Joana-17 and Nancy-18 (Not their real names) in one of the abandoned Indian property in Jinja.
“Altogether, I have been living on the streets for about four years,” Suzan started opening up while the others looked on, her skin was dry, her eyes looked as though she had not slept the previous night but she was calm and collected. She narrated. “ In the four years, I have been on and off the streets on several occasions, but sometimes I find it more comforting to be lonely on the streets other than being in the village where I have to share a home with the man that abused me sexually as I grew up.” I notice a boldness in her, she is someone who understands what is good for her, but the opportunity of practicing what she wants in the right environment is all that she has not had. She turned around to grab a bottle of mineral water from a nearby bucket and then silence engulfed the entire dilapidated property. The light there was not enough. “ I tell you something,” she called out. “When we walk the streets in the evening, people think we are prostitutes. So, on several occasions, strange and drunk men come up to us and ask us for sex in exchange for small amounts of money.” Then Joana chipped in. “If you say yes, they will keep targeting you and the cycle will not end.” I was now facing a certain kind of reality that I believed should not be lived at all. Surely, we live in countries where we think all is well but unfortunately, the life that human beings live out there is far beyond human imagination.
Joana was very calculative with her words, may be because she was pregnant. What she said was like a spear that pierced through the walls of my heart – The price to pay, if you are emotional. She was Seven months pregnant, she did not know the man responsible for her pregnancy. She struck me as a very intelligent girl, but here she was in a crisis that I wished she was not. “It is really merely common sense that I have to survive, regardless of my past. Joana came from Kotido on a lorry. The man who drove her from the village was meant to take her to Kampala. She expected to find a better life in the city since most of her peers had earlier left and she thought all was well with them out there. This man who was supposed to safely drive her to Kampala at the back of a lorry instead asked her to spend a night with him in a lodge in Jinja, before they could proceed to Kampala. The lorry driver was dead-serious, he was
not ready to drive Joana to Kampala unless she satisfied his demand for sex. No matter the circumstances, the man who had offered to help the 15 year old had now turned savage. Even when she thought of saying no, there was no streamlined way she could escape the trap. She was several kilometers away from home and she literally did not know how to go about, in the place where she was. She knew nothing about her eventual way to Kampala. Deep down her heart, she was not ready to give in to the demands of the man she had met the previous day, at that time, she was only 15. The town Jinja, was livelier than her village and this gave her a second thought. She chose to break ties with the man as he parked the lorry, and mysteriously escaped. By the time she left the village, she was a student in her village primary school, but studied with you girls who kept making fun of her age and her troubles with the menstrual periods. So she could not take it anymore. Having run away from the man, she made her way through the streets from Gapco petrol station, following the main route. She followed the route that most of the taxis used. After walking for about thirty minutes, she was in the Jinja main taxi Park. This led her to the heart of Jinja town, away from the man who wanted to take her innocence away. She felt the streets were safer at that time. Unfortunately she was in a strange environment. This was the time of the agricultural trade show. When darkness reigned, she had to look for where to sleep. She walked through streets, looking for the loud music from the show grounds which she later located after a lot of difficulties. Lucky for her, while she looked for ways of survival, she met Suzan, with whom they spoke the same language. They recognized one another from the way they were dressed and the marks on their foreheads. Many women with the ability to take care of children choose to abort, but here was a 17 year old girl living on the streets, eager to have a child regardless of the circumstance. “I cannot wait to give birth.” She said this with a warm smile, for a moment I was lost in my mind, but here I was, being exposed to reality.
One thing that beat my understanding was the warmth in these girl’s talk, they were more positive than many people that I knew. Nancy joined the rest recently, she is the quietest of them all and Joana is a little worried for her. Her ordeal is long but I will summarize it. Back in her village, while she left the well, high up in the mountains in the evening. An elderly man accosted her and tried to rape her. She screamed but was helpless, and as the man tore her dress, other villagers who had come up to collect water made it up to the scene. There was no way the rapist could go ahead with his savage act. After spending a few days in police custody, the culprit was released to negotiate terms of reconciliation with Nancy’s parents. Her parents accepted one cow and a few shillings and the culprit was set free. This man who attempted to rape Nancy made it a point to look for Nancy every evening, he waylaid her as she left school. It is as though the parents had given him permission to sexually assault her. She could not take it anymore, she ran away from home. She got in touch with Suzan and Joana through one of the boys, who also lives on the streets near the Madvani market. The boy, a close friend to Suzan cleans stalls in the market sometimes and shares his earnings with the girls once in a while. Even when Nancy had somewhere to sleep, she was not yet used to the life of overcoming challenges on the streets in a strange town. But here she was, she had to survive.
It is not enough to hear stories of a sort but remember these are only 3 of the maybe 8000 girls in the surveyed urban centers, and they are living on the streets of the least populated of all the surveyed centers. What then is the situation in all the others; the capital city Kampala, the border district of Busia and the lively town of Mbale. Thirdly, the three girls share common factors that pushed them onto the streets, far away from their homelands i.e. Sexual assault, lack of adequate protection from the parents, unable to fit in at school due to natural circumstances and lack of basic necessities. Is this a reality in many parts of our country? Yes. Is there anything we can do to help such children? Yes. When it comes to changing lives, it is never too late to do something. One skill that I know does not need special talent is getting things done. If we people who have the ability and means to get things done, indeed go ahead and have things done in real sense, then many opportunities will be available to vulnerable children who are crawling towards one opportunity to strive for their goals in life. Personally I chose to share my research and experiences with Prince Wako Foundation because they actively got involved in providing solutions to the innocent souls that I encountered in the different research programs. So do you want to be part of the solution to like realities? Then you need to stand tall and be counted. Be part of the several solution providing programs managed by Prince Wako Foundation, aimed at empowering the girl child.