By Dicta Asiimwe
Who takes care of the roaming lonely orphans?
He is wearing threadbare rugs. Thats all he owns for clothes. Kutosi is the only name that identifies the 13-year-old boy whose parents and five siblings died in the Bududa mudslides.
In the African setting, orphans without both parents always get guardians who are often relatives or family friends. Then the orphans become part of the extended family set up.
Kutosi’s case is different. It appears Kutosi has no relative or family friend willing to take him up. His undoing is he comes from a family which lived in conflict with relatives who are now punishing the innocent punishing the 13-year-old for his parents deeds.
When The Independent met Kutosi, a Primary Three pupil of Nametsi Primary School, he was fleeing the tent that had been allocated to him. He said he had left because he was being beaten and his food rations were being stolen by the members he shared the tent with. When he tried to get back, he was beaten and labeled a thief. So he reported to the camp leaders. But he was also beaten for that too. When he received his food rations which the camp leaders say were supposed to last a month, he ran to the Red Cross so that he could be allocated an alternative tent.
Unlike most local children who are still trekking with the UPDF soldiers with hope they might trace their parents one day, Kutosi has given up the last hope.Â He knows very well where his parents are. He has started preparing his lonely journey into the future. But with no caretaker at this tender age, Kutosiâ€™s journey might prove much more harder than it would have been.
Pamela Kumojuni, a disaster manager representing the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness at Bulucheke camp, said they have prepared to take care of such children through allocation of tents according to villages and preferably grouping relatives in one tent for protection of orphaned minors and easy identification.
She also said they have designed a sector for protection of unaccompanied minors that involves supporting relatives to look after the children. However it seems this project exists more on paper than in reality. Relatives of children who picked them after the mudslides say the government hasnâ€™t supported them at all.
Sophina Namayego lives in an area which was not affected by the landslides but her sister and husband perished in the disaster leaving behind four children.
She says the camp authorities told her she could only get help for her sisterâ€™s children if she brought them to the camp. She however said she could not because she would not be able to care for them from there. She says the tents in the camps were also crowded and could expose the children to disease.
Just like war the Bududa landslides left many minors parentless. These minors also have no homes or property which makes it hard for them to look after themselves.
According to Komujuni, the government plans to relocate the people at Bulucheke camp four months from now.Â But since children aged below 18 canâ€™t be given homes of their own, government will have to look for where to take them.
Â Gabriel Opio, whose Ministry of Gender and Social Development is in charge of children, says the government is already working with development partners like the United States Agency for International Development to provide for the orphaned children.
He added that the government has a community development officer in charge of the children at Bulucheke camp and they are working with him to look after the minors.
The government however seems to have no system to handle children in Bulucheke as Komujuni was heard by this writer asking whether there were child headed families in the camp after one of them picked his donations on his own.
The minister said the children at Bulucheke would be relocated to government owned orphanages. According to him, government owns some orphanages and Naguru Reception Centre in Kampala is one of them.
We have a juvenile prison in Mbale but we will expand it and attach an orphanage there, Oipo said.
An advocacy officer at Uganda Childs Rights NGO Network said the reception is meant for children whose parents the government is trying to trace but its not well equipped to handle orphans for a long time.
According to him the civil society cant do much for the children and their help can only be channelled through government programmes. He said if the civil society took the lead, the government would sit back on its laurels and do nothing.
He the Childrens Act has provides for care for children in such situations but the government has failed because they sector is underfunded.
However even before the mudslides, Bududa had always been a poor part of the country with hardly any reasonable social infrastructure. The mudslides only compounded the already bad a situation.