With the slave trade gone about 200 years ago, one would think slavery is far behind us.
But at Arapai market in the eastern Soroti district, there’s a modern form of child slavery being practiced. For a paltry Shs 20,000 to Shs 50,000, parents are surrendering their children to total strangers who ferry them to Kampala and other towns to beg on the streets.
According to the Soroti district chief administrative officer Henry Damba, at Arapai market children are sold far cheaper than goats. He said the business is so lucrative that it has attracted troops of agents who coordinate the sales.
They deal directly with parents or guardians and once they are paid, children are immediately transported to urban centres or taken to offer cheap labour, which makes it difficult for authorities to fight the vice, he said.
“Because Arapai market brings many people from Karamoja sub-region, there are many coordinators who bargain the price and some portion is given to parents. Most in demand children are those between 12-15 years of age,” Damba added.
The deplorable sale is blamed on poor living conditions in many parts of Karamoja sub-region that force parents to sell off some of their children to raise money to feed the remainder of families.
To eliminate child trafficking, Damba urges government and non-governmental organisations partners to address the root causes such as poverty, famine and illiteracy. Damba said for years local leaders failed to identify and deal with child traffickers until recently – with support from police, that they started arresting and prosecuting perpetuators.
“Recently our probation team intercepted around 14 trafficked children who were being transported to Kampala. We want it to be a landmark case that will deter other people from getting involved in child trafficking,” he said.
Transport operators especially bus and taxi drivers are at the forefront of promoting human trafficking. They are paid by traffickers to transport children from different parts of the country well knowing they are being trafficked, he said.
Amos Oluka, the district probation and welfare officer, said his office has engaged traffic police in the district to establish an interception centre at one of the Fika Salama spots to intercept and repatriate children being trafficked.
Fika Salama is a traffic check point along highways. With this initiative, they have prosecuted one taxi driver and his conductor who are currently on remand. Some parents and a coordinator were also arrested but released on police bond as investigations go on.
“We are working hard to build our field capacity to ensure that this vice is brought to an end. However, we cannot do it alone. We call upon the ministry of gender to give support by intensifying the fight especially in urban centres where these children are trafficked to,” Oluka added.
Though he was reluctant to call it buying, he said the price at which the child is sold depends on one’s bargaining power. Bernard Atiku, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Children Affairs, said some parents are so desperate they sell their children for as low as Shs 20,000.
“With the prolonged drought, famine and poverty, parents are made to surrender their children to strangers to earn a living. They are sold and trafficked to Kampala and other urban centres where they are made to beg and enrich their sponsors,” he said.
Atiku, however, said they have asked the ministry of Works and Transport as well as bus operators to play a part in the fight against human trafficking. Parliament is also in the process of amending the Trafficking in Persons Act to include stringent measures to arrest and prosecute the perpetuators.
“The current law has gaps that need to be plugged such as the need for a provision for one to report in case they are being enslaved or feel they are being trafficked to enable us deal with the traffickers. Once the law is amended, cases of human trafficking will reduce,” he said.
Atiku called upon government to find alternative ways to accommodate children on the streets including resettling them in their communities or finding alternative homes where they can be trained to be productive and self-sustaining.
KCCA a week ago passed the Children Protection Ordinance that is aimed at getting children off the streets. It criminalises giving money or anything to street children. According to the ordinance, any culprit is liable to pay a fine of Sh 40,000 or imprisonment for a period not less than six months or both.