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Child trafficking or goodwill? The Iteso’s dilemma

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd July 2006 03:00 AM

It is 1:00pm. The sun is blazing. It is a market day in Ocorimongin IDP camp, Katakwi district. This market is the largest in Teso because of the booming trade between the Iteso and Karimojong every Friday.

It is 1:00pm. The sun is blazing. It is a market day in Ocorimongin IDP camp, Katakwi district. This market is the largest in Teso because of the booming trade between the Iteso and Karimojong every Friday.

By Alice Emasu and Harriette Onyalla
It is 1:00pm. The sun is blazing. It is a market day in Ocorimongin IDP camp, Katakwi district. This market is the largest in Teso because of the booming trade between the Iteso and Karimojong every Friday.
However, today, business is not booming. The atmosphere is tense. There is anxiety as some market-goers impatiently wait for drama to unfold between Police and prospective ‘buyers’.
Reason? Fuso trucks have arrived with Karimojong girls and women from Moroto district, but the girls cannot alight. The Police are waiting to arrest them.
“These Policemen are spoiling our business,” remarks a man who has come to pick a girl. He looks restless.
Mama Igaraman is conspicuous. Everybody’s eyes seem to be glued on her. This tall, slender, middle-aged innocent-looking woman is famous for connecting the Karimojong girls to the locals, a job she accepts gladly.
“Yes, I help the girls to come. I give them work in my home so they can have a livelihood. They come when they desperately need food. I don’t sell the girls as people allege. You could call me a Good Samaritan because what I do is an act of goodwill.
“My intentions for these girls are good. I give them food, which they regularly send home to their relatives. Since January, I have had 11 girls but seven have since returned home after hearing, over the radio, that they would be arrested,” Mama Igaraman says.
Quoting Amuria district Woman MP Rhoda Achen, The New Vision first reported incidences of Karimojong children being trafficked into Teso and beyond about three weeks ago. Achen said the girls were being trafficked in Ocorimongin market in Katakwi at a minimum of sh3,000. This has since caused panic and tension among a cross-section of the public, including district officials and people in IDP camps in Katakwi.
Katakwi RDC Thomas Nyalulu confirms that there is an influx of Karimojong women and children in the district, but denies that child trafficking is going on.
Nyalulu says what is being mistaken as trading in girls is the fact that due to poverty in Karamoja, the girls are transported to Teso by businessmen/Fuso truck owners on credit. On arrival, people interested in them pay the businessmen the transport fare and then take the girls.

He adds that about 47 Karimojong girls and women, from as young as one, come to Teso as a way of coping with the long drought, which has caused severe food shortage in Karamoja. He says their investigations show that whoever connects the girls from Karamoja also gets people who need them in Katakwi.
“I am a bit reluctant to use the word ‘trafficking’ because of the circumstances. I would say this is temporary migration. There is no coercion or kidnapping, it is voluntary.
“The girls are brought by the Iteso who have lived in Karamoja for long and are therefore acquainted with them,” Nyalulu says.
However, he does not rule out the possibility that there could be other people taking advantage of the girls’ plight to exploit them.
Nyalulu knows Mama Igaraman, whose real name is Basilisa Akol. He says Akol lived in Matany, Moroto district for over 20 years. Agnes Arakat has also brought girls to Teso. She initially brought two sisters, 12 and 15, and they were later joined by another 12-year-old girl.
However, in what would look like a paradox, the RDC says they arrested one Susan Amekede from Alele, Katakwi and charged her with illegal possession of two children. He says Amekede had brought the children to help her uproot five acres of groundnuts.
Katakwi LC5 chairman Robert Ekongot says, “There is nothing new about Karimojong children coming to work in Teso. Every year, especially in June and July, they come looking for food. These people have been coming to Teso for as long as there has been famine in Karamoja.”
The Ocorimongin IDP camp leader, Saverio Olum, agrees. He says they cannot refuse to help children and women from Karamoja because they are harmless.
“The Amuria Woman MP should withdraw her statement that we are selling children. We are simply helping them,” he says.
Robert Otim, 52, echoes Olum’s view, saying, “We have suffered long enough. Instead of helping the Karimojong solve their problems, people are diverting issues and want to blame us.”
He says it is inconceivable for anyone to buy a person at sh3,000. He adds that he has even married a Karimojong woman.
Anna Grace Akwango Elotu, the regional programme manager ActionAid International-Uganda, defines child trafficking as the removal of children from their homes and taking them to other places for commercial gain. She says child trafficking is violence against the person of women and girls, denying them the right to lead a dignified life. It violates the rights of children to development and education and makes them lose their roots and cultural identity, exposing them to different vulnerabilities such as child labour, sexual exploitation and child sacrifice.
“The biggest risk for the Karimojong girls is that nobody knows where many of them end up. Their parents do not know their final destination or fate. We are carrying out research to understand the magnitude and implication of their plight in Teso,” says Elotu.
According to ActionAid’s preliminary report on child trafficking in eastern Uganda, there is credible information that points to the fact that child trafficking exists in the area.
Although not publicised or addressed, child trafficking, says the report, is a common crime that is usually disguised to parents as a philanthropic activity to needy children.
However, it is low-key and even the beneficiaries are somehow convinced to be secretive about the departure of their children.
“The victims of child trafficking are children of all ages, including babies,” it says.

It points out that child trafficking is most common in conflict and immediate post-conflict situations. In these conditions, girls are convinced to leave for better living conditions by people claiming to be philanthropists. They are even encouraged to run away from the dangerous conditions on their own freewill without knowing that they are entering a human trafficking racket.
“For girls, child trafficking is a criminal racket conducted mainly for ‘ritual sex’ and other cleansing rituals usually leading to murder. The most common rural to urban girl-child trafficking is for girl-child labour. In these cases, the girl child co-operates to come to the city and live in better conditions without knowing that she is being traded,” the report further observes.
It notes that the most common type of child trafficking is the rural to rural girl-child trafficking, which is done for cheap marriages as a result of economic pressure.
Katakwi Chief Administrative Officer Nicholas Ochakara says their main concern is how to ensure that all the Karimojong children in Teso are absorbed into the various schools within their localities.
He says the Government, with financial support from organisations like UNICEF, is investigating the alleged child trafficking.
However, some locals are apprehensive about Karimojong girls and women coming into Teso in large numbers, particularly at a time when Karimojong warriors are infiltrating some parts of Teso. They think these girls could have been sent to spy for the warriors on the locations of homes with many animals and safe hideouts.
They argue that because of the continued attacks and theft by Karimojong warriors in Teso, the girls are vulnerable to revenge by the Iteso, which could claim their lives.
However, other sources reveal that the Karimojong girls are ferried into Sudan and Kenya, where child trafficking and sexual exploitation are rampant.
“If you want to confirm that Karimojong girls are everywhere in the country, board a Moroto-Kampala-bound bus. You will see them alighting one by one in the company of adults in major towns like Mbale, Iganga, Jinja and Kampala,” says an anonymous source.

Today, streets in Kampala are awash with Karimojong girls and women. Although the circumstances that force the girls and women out of Karamoja may be similar, those on the streets may not be the ones being trafficked.
However, some locals in Teso think the girls and women loitering in Kampala could be the victims of child trafficking, since no one really knows their final destinations.
Stella Ayoo Odongo, a programme officer with the Uganda Child Rights Network, says child trafficking is a silent practice, which makes it a big challenge to be tackled effectively. She observes that in Ethiopia, child trafficking is rampant and they have come up with serious interventions from which Uganda can learn. They have, among others, established centres at bus terminals where the traffickers are arrested and the girls rescued.
She says the UN recognises it as an international business. In 2002, the UN passed an optional protocol to the Convention of the Rights of Children against sexual exploitation and commercialisation, to which Uganda is a signatory. However, Uganda has not put in place an effective legislation like the Sexual Offences Bill, which is still being shelved in Parliament, yet it would have addressed the problem of child trafficking.
Meanwhile, at Mama Igaraman’s home, Maria Sagal, a Karimojong woman of about 22, lies down under a shed to rest after returning from harvesting sorghum. Her one-year-old plays around her.
Sagal, who came to Teso in January this year along with her siblings and baby, will soon wake up to prepare dinner.
Eleven-year-old Lochero, her sibling, is chasing hens away from the sorghum in the compound, while another two have gone to fetch water. Sagal says the father of her son consented to her coming on condition that she sends back food regularly. She says she cannot abandon her husband.
However, she does not want to return to Karamoja this season. She says many of her colleagues were disappointed when they returned to Karamoja recently, fearing arrest from Teso leaders.
Ends

Child trafficking or goodwill? The Iteso’s dilemma

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