Ugandan street children beaten and abused by police says report

Street children in Uganda are being routinely abused, beaten, rounded up and thrown into cells by police and government officials.

A shocking report published today by Human Rights Watch reveals boys and girls are attacked with batons, whips and wires and forced to hand over bribes to police.

The organisation is calling on Uganda’s government to hold officials accountable for this brutal treatment and to provide improved access to schooling and healthcare.

Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher for HRW, said: “For children to be effectively protected and cared for, the government should ensure that all children, including those on the streets, can find shelter and get an education.”

She added: “Ugandan authorities should be protecting and helping homeless children, not beating them up or throwing them in police jails with adults. The government should end arbitrary roundups of street children and protect them from abuse.”

More than half of all Ugandans are under 15 and children are the single largest demographic group living in poverty. Many children live rough because of poverty or because their parents have died, many of them from AIDS.

HRW interviewed scores of street children in seven towns across Uganda between December last year and February. Its 71-page report – titled “Where Do You Want Us to Go?” Abuses against Street Children in Uganda – details accounts of human rights violations by police and local government officials, as well as abuses by members of the community and older homeless children and adults.

A 13-year-old boy who had been living on the street in Lira for two years, said: “[The policemen] take money from us. If you do not have money they beat you so much…. Last week on Saturday, police came in the night and beat me when I was sleeping with three other children. The policeman beat me on the thighs with a rubber whip. He then hit my knees with a baton. He beat me until I gave him 1,000 shillings (40 US cents) and left me.”

The report said children have sometimes been detained in police stations with adults and mistreated by cellmates. Many were released back to the streets after several days, or in some cases weeks, often only after paying a bribe or being forced to do work for the police.

Both boys and girls living on the street reported being raped or sexually assaulted by men and older street boys. In some instances, community members also harass, threaten, beat, and exploit street children.

To find food to survive, children reported working as vendors, porters, domestic help, or laborers in homes, small restaurants, and other businesses. They were paid little for long hours of physically demanding and difficult work. Some children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation, reliant on sex work to survive.