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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 02:03 GMT
Summit displaces Uganda street children
By Sarah Grainger
BBC News, Kampala

Uganda is preparing for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November by clearing beggars from the capital's streets.

Children waiting at the centre
Aid workers fear that the centre cannot cope with the influx

Most of those living on Kampala's streets are from the troubled and underdeveloped region of Karamoja.

In the last few weeks, hundreds have been rounded up and taken to a makeshift holding centre outside the capital.

The Kampiringisa Centre is a series of desolate concrete buildings set rather incongruously in lush forest and farmland about 40 kilometres west of Kampala.

Built as a rehabilitation centre for young offenders, it is now home to almost 900 people, nearly all of them children.

There is not enough room for everyone in the dormitories, so some sleep in the gymnasium.

Street life

One of them is 10-year-old Nabale Amuye.

She came to Kampala with her aunt three months ago to make some money.

Nabale was abandoned by her aunt and survives on Kampala's streets

But her aunt left her there.

"I ate leftovers from the market like the potatoes that fell down and nobody noticed. And I lived in a house with eight other people," she says.

Nabale is reluctant to tell me her story.

But her experience is typical of most of the children here.

They come from Karamoja, Uganda's least developed region.

Its people are cattle herders and the clans still raid each other.

Where once they would have been armed with spears, now they have rifles.

With the insecurity, families need other means of income, so they send their children to Kampala to make a living, begging on the streets.

The government has begun rounding up hundreds of street children, and taking them to the Kampiringisa Centre.


But aid groups are concerned about the conditions there.

"What makes me sad is that the place where these people have gone was not ready to receive them," says Rita Nkemba from the group Dwelling Places.

"There are so many people with very few resources and the staff are so strained and stressed. The facilities are not enough to cover these people," she says.

The government says it has already begun returning some of the street people to their home region, Karamoja.

But in recent weeks more than 80 people have been killed there in clashes with the Ugandan army, who are in the region to disarm the Karamojong warriors.

And there is no clear plan to stop the street children going back to Kampala, begging again.

Minister of State for Youth James Kinobe says roadblocks are being put in place to prevent children travelling to Kampala on their own.

But what about the root causes of this problem?

"Poverty eradication is a process, not an event," he tells me, "It will take time."

So far, the street clearing exercise has been voluntary but it will shortly become compulsory and anyone not complying will be arrested.

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