Ugandans who give money or food to street children in the capital Kampala will be fined under measures designed to end child exploitation.
Municipal councillors in the city adopted a bylaw banning alms to street children after hearing arguments that such charity often did more harm than good. Those who flout the ban will be fined £8.
The sight of young children begging from motorists and pedestrians is a common one in Kampala and other African cities. But many have been cajoled into begging by networks of criminals who pocket proceeds.
In some countries, like neighbouring Kenya, homeless children are given glue in return, creating an addiction that helps keep children on the streets and further fuels the trade, activists say.
Officials in Uganda claim that children are often brought into the capital from elsewhere by the criminal networks.
“It’s now a lucrative business for some individuals who procure these kids from various parts of the country and bring them to the streets of Kampala,” said Erias Lukwago, Kampala’s lord mayor. “It’s a business. We want to bring that to an end."
Religious groups that work with street children and which lobbied for the legislation welcomed the move.
“Wherever you see a [street] kid, there is an older person sitting 100m away,” said Solomon Mayanja, a pastor who advises the Kampala Capital City Authority. “Giving these children money doesn’t benefit them, it goes to a rich man."
While homeless children are undoubtedly exploited, human rights activists have accused the government of doing too little to resettle and rehabilitate them or to find out why they have gone on to the street in the first place.
Although Uganda and other African states provide shelters, street children are sometimes brought to them by force. Conditions can be tough, with street children who have gone through them saying they are given neither food nor attention and are sometimes subjected to beatings.
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The Uganda Human Rights Commission has called on the government to “address the causes and not just the symptoms” that have driven 15,000 children onto the streets of the country’s cities.