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HRW: Uganda failing to protect homeless kids

Human Rights Watch has called for an end to the physical and sexual abuse of homeless children.

Street children in Mbale town in Uganda, 140 miles east of the capital, Kampala, surround an open fire to stay warm at night. Picture: Edward Echwalu, Human Rights Watch.

JOHANNESBURG - Human Rights Watch on Thursday said Uganda is failing to protect homeless children against police abuse and other violence.

A report released on Thursday documents more than 130 interviews involving street children and aid organisations.

The document reveals police and other officials, including those from the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), beat, extorted money from and arbitrarily detained street children in Uganda's urban centers.

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and local government officials periodically ordered the roundup children throughout the country, the group said.

Street children in Mbale town, east of Kampala sleep on shop verandas after owners have closed for the day. Picture: Edward Echwalu, Human Rights Watch.

Children held in custody are forced to clean cells and police living quarters. On the streets, homeless adults and older children harass, threaten, beat, sexually abuse and force drugs upon them.

Organisations working with street children told HRW that police do little to investigate crimes against children.

The group said children rarely reported crimes by their peers or adults to the police for fear of reprisals, or that police would simply beat or arrest them instead.

A 14-year-old boy in Mbale town, east of Kampala, was taken to the Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center outside Kampala. He was hit on the head with a baton when he resisted arrest, though later escaped. Picture: Edward Echwalu, Human Rights Watch.

Researchers found when a suspected or actual theft had occurred, communities had converged on street children, occasionally carrying out mob violence.

Children have also fallen prey to commercial sexual exploitation.

A 16-year-old boy from Jinja District who lived on the streets of various towns for seven years told researchers, "The police have to give us our rights. They should make us a home where we can be taken [in]."

A 14-year-old boy in Mbale town, east of Kampala, was taken to the Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Center outside Kampala. He was hit on the head with a baton when he resisted arrest, though later escaped. Picture: Edward Echwalu, Human Rights Watch.

"Ugandan authorities should be protecting and helping homeless children, not beating them up or throwing them in police jails with adults," said Maria Burnett, HRW senior Africa researcher.

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is charged with protecting children and has created multiple programs and policies intended to protect the rights of vulnerable children.

A 10-year-old boy looks for metal scraps at a garbage heap in Mbale town, east of Kampala. He sells metal scraps and empty plastic bottles in exchange for money, food, or petrol to sniff. Picture: Edward Echwalu, Human Rights Watch.