Child Trafficking Uganda

Uganda reports that some 250 of its citizens are trafficked abroad every year to destinations such as China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, France, Canada and Iraq with numbers on the rise due to poverty and poor employment opportunities. Not all of these cases are abductions. Many respond to job opportunities such as domestic roles in the Middle east only to find, after arrival, that their passports are confiscated and they are treated as little more than slaves.

Those who manage to get away, find disinterest from Middle Eastern authorities with many ending up in camps for months whilst their situation is assessed.

Similarly in 2013 in Kampala's shopping malls, posters were put up promising young women free fares to Malaysia where there were jobs waiting as nannys, maids or in bar work. On arrival they have their passports taken and are forced into prostitution rings with no means of escape.

More insidiously children are trafficked with a typical report from the summer of 2013 recounting how twenty children from the Butaleja District in Eastern Uganda had been trafficked to the Democratic Republic of Congo as fighters.

Again, these are not children abducted from the streets, rather tempted by convincing elders to attend learning facilities where they are promised, in return for learning the Koran quickly, that they will be rewarded with good jobs. In order to do so they will need to live residentially at a learning centre.

Child Trafficking UgandaThey leave with parental consent, only to find themselves taken to DRC and forced into fighting with the rebels. Again, in late Autumn 2013  in one such episode, forty children from the small rural village of Namatoke Village again in the  Butaleja District of Eastern Uganda were lured to such a 'educational learning centre' on the impoverished and one third Muslim Buvuma Islands of Lake Victoria to be rounded up and trafficked to DRC as ADF fighters.

According to the U.S. Department of State "Trafficking in Persons Report 2012" children in Uganda are trafficked both within the country and to other destinations for work in agriculture, cattle herding, mining, stone quarrying, brick making, car washing, scrap metal collection, bars and restaurants, and the domestic service sector as well as exploitation in prostitution.

Particularly vulnerable are the children of the Karamojong people, a group of herders from north-east Uganda, with both women and children being sold in such places as cattle markets. (See video, right.)


Child Trafficking Uganda

Child Trafficking Uganda

Child Trafficking Uganda

Child Trafficking Uganda


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Child Trafficking Uganda

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Child Trafficking Uganda

Child Trafficking UgandaThey go on to work in domestic servitude, brick laying, general and construction labouring, sand mining, stone quarrying, tree planting, cutting, and in other labour intensive industries. Some later escape and find their way onto the streets.

In terms of numbers, a 2009 report estimated that there are 2.7 million child labourers in Uganda, 12,000 trapped in commercial sex, 10,000 street children and 25-30,000 children abducted from the country to engage in armed conflicts elsewhere.  Add to this the vulnerable 1.2 million children across the country who have been orphaned through AIDS who are particularly susceptible to offers of a better life by apparent philanthropists and you have an economy ripe for child trafficking especially given that many births aren't registered and therefore missing children aren't even noticed nor, if they do resurface, can prove who they are nor which country they came from.

The term 'child trafficking' itself conjures up images of children being dragged from their families and sold effectively into slavery. However, in Uganda and elsewhere it is often much more subtle than that. Many children aren't sold into slavery, they are given by their poor parents who often cannot provide for them to other family members who promise them a better life and education.

However impoverished families have been known to sell their children often for as little as £12  ~ about the going weekly pay rate for a teacher in a non-government private school in Uganda. Others are rented out for labour. For example in one area children as young as four keep the fields clear by shouting at birds or throwing stones at them. In exchange they are provided with food or a small amount of money before they return to their family at night.

Child Labour UgandaIn quarries around Lake Bunyonyi in south-west Uganda you can see scores of pre and school children working all hours chipping rocks into gravel under a blazing sun (left) without protective clothing to shield them from the flying rocks. Most of these children will earn just 11p for a 12 hour day of hard labour ~ then have that taken off them by their parent(s) on returning home.

And this in a country whose constitution states that children under 16 years of age have the right to be protected from social and economic exploitation; should not be employed in work that would endanger their physical, mental, spiritual, or moral health and social development, or that would interfere with their education. The Constitution also prohibits child slavery, servitude, and forced labour.

The "Trafficking in Persons Report 2008" concluded "The Government of Uganda does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so."

Five years on, its still a major problem. The following are identified as the primary causes of child trafficking in Uganda:

  • Poverty
  • Destabilization of the region and country
  • Dissolutionment of the family unit
  • Armed conflict
  • Political instability
  • Gender inequality
  • Weak anti-trafficking laws
  • Poor economic development
  • Lack of sustainable infrastructure
  • Lack of interoperability
  • Poor inter-country cooperation
  • Low education level
  • Limited awareness of trafficking and social-economic precipitators

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