Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Child Trafficking: Uganda - where children wear earrings to protect them from being sacrificed

More children are wearing earrings to school as parents try to protect them from witch doctors in Gulu

More cases of child trafficking and abuse are being reported in the northern Ugandan districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader, according to officials. The region is mainly inhabited by an internally displaced population recovering from over a decade of war.

"People are taking advantage of impoverished IDP [internally displaced persons] parents. The parents are promised money and a good life for their children, but the children end up miserable... and abused," Johnson Kilama, the regional police liaison officer, told IRIN.

Kilama said children are being trafficked out of the region, having been tricked into believing they can get work babysitting or as house-helps for rich families in the towns.

In 2008, eight children, whose whereabouts remain unknown, went missing in Kitgum and Pader. Some 23 children, who had been trafficked from three IDP camps in Gulu, were rescued in the same year in the eastern district of Mukono.

Some of the children end up as victims of child sacrifice, according to Kilama. Already, Gulu is grappling with the vice.

A resident of the Awach IDP camp in Gulu, David Abonga, is traumatised after the 14 April killing of his one-and-a-half-year-old son in what seems to have been a case of child sacrifice.

"I left home at about 10am to graze my cattle. My son was playing and his mother was preparing to wash clothes," Abonga told IRIN, tears rolling down his face. "When I returned [home] in the evening, my son was nowhere to be seen."

Abonga said a search for his son had been unfruitful, forcing him to seek the assistance of the local leaders. His son's mutilated body was later recovered dumped in the nearby River Abera. A 70-year-old local witchdoctor was arrested in connection with the killing.

Child theft

Cases of child theft have also been reported in hospitals, nursery schools and other child-care centres in Gulu, prompting calls for increased security and tougher laws. "We call for stringent measures and tougher punishment for culprits to deter other people from being involved in child abuse," said Joseph Kilama, Gulu, district probation officer.

Recently, Uganda’s chief judge Benjamin Odoki urged the courts to pass tougher sentences for those involved in child abuse offenses.

In the meantime, parents in the north have taken to circumcising their children and adorning them with earrings to deter would be perpetrators. "I hear that witchdoctors do not want circumcised children or those with earrings," Lukwayi Ayot, a local resident told IRIN. "I have decided to circumcise my two boys."

Schools have embraced the practice too, said Ayot a local teacher. "We do not forbid any child from wearing earrings in school... to protect them."

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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