This year, the International Day of the African Child is celebrating ‘children’s rights first’. Yet in Uganda, children who commit petty crimes to survive are too often denied their rights and end up locked up in terrible conditions.
Forced to steal just to survive
In northern Uganda, many children’s lives have been affected by poverty and conflict. Sadly, they have no choice but to steal to eat. Yet these small crimes are punished harshly by the authorities. Too often, children are sent to overcrowded adult prisons where they are at high risk of sexual abuse, violence and neglect.
The chronic lack of probation officers and prosecutors means that children are held in prison for long periods of time. When a hearing is finally held, only a handful of children are granted the right to be trialled in a juvenile court with legal representation. A severe lack of social workers, judiciary personnel and pro-bono lawyers compromises children’s rights to access fair and legal treatment and protection. For these vulnerable children, there is no way out of a cycle of poverty, violence and crime.
Children in Uganda deserve more. There is a better way.
Since 2015, Chance for Childhood has been working to give these extremely marginalised children a second chance. By developing community-based alternatives to detention and upholding the rights they deserve, children can avoid the horrors of the criminal justice system.
Through our project, children who have committed petty crimes receive legal aid, are put onto community-based rehabilitation programmes and are offered vocational training such as hair dressing, tailoring, brick laying and carpentry. Now 60% of all petty crime cases are handled at community level.
Vocational training isn’t right for everyone. We’ve worked to put younger children back into mainstream school. So far, 138 children have gone back into education!
Through education and vocational training, young people gain the confidence and the skills to earn a stable income. They no longer need to steal to survive and they can break free from the vicious cycle of crime and poverty. In fact, 99% of those who received vocational training don’t reoffend and 95% of our graduates are now earning an income. This incredible statistic shows the importance of upholding children’s rights and treating them with the respect they deserve.
Christine’s parents died in the civil war that has engulfed northern Uganda for two decades. Still a child herself, she was forced to drop out of school to take care of her younger brother and sisters. But with no means of earning an income, Christine was forced to steal to put food on the table for her siblings. When caught, her community turned against her and she faced an uncertain future in the hands of the police. Thankfully, our Right2Change project was able to reach out to her. We gave her training in tailoring and business management. “My life has changed tremendously. I was even able to take my younger brother back to school!”, she told us.
Stigma that kids behind bars face from their communities has long been a factor in the exclusion of these vulnerable children. However, by keeping them away from prison and involving the community in their rehabilitation, attitudes are changing. When we started our project, half of children in conflict with the law felt they weren’t accepted by their communities. Today that figure has reduced to just 26%!
With your support, children are getting the help they need. They’re avoiding prison sentences which could condemn them to a life of crime and learning new skills, benefitting them and the wider community. Will you help us keep more children safe and put them on a path to a bright future by donating today?