Women in Hoima District under Kaiso Women’s Group are working to petition the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) seeking its intervention in the growing number of school going children lingering around on the Lake Albert shores.
The women say they will petition the office in partnership with lower local government leaders in the area.
Leaders have reported that some parents and guardians keeping children at home claim that their children study in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where academic study schedules are inconsistent with those of Uganda.
Some of the children end up living at Kaiso landing site after allegedly quitting Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp in Kikuube district to join their Congolese relatives who arrived in Uganda some years ago.
This issue emerged during a stakeholder’s engagement organised by Kaiso Women’s Group.
Petitioning the OPM, rounding up of children, heightening sensitisation and arresting their parents and guardians are some of the key recommendations that were made during the engagement.
Mr Godfrey Byaruhanga, the Hoima District Councillor for Kabaale Sub-county, highlighted the need for urgent action to have the children in school championed by local leaders since the law of Uganda encourages education for all children in the country regardless of their origin and nationality.
Mr Hassan Kugonza, the Kabaale Sub-county Local Government Chairman, promised to contact the authorities in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement Camp to see how they can work together to ascertain whether the lingering children truly refugees or they are Congolese who are not registered with the OPM.
Mr Patrick Tumusiime, claimed that he is reliably informed of the presence of some children and adults who have refugee attestation cards and normally move to the settlement to get food rations.
During the meeting, it was also identified that there are also many Ugandan children not attending school due to the tough economic times accelerated by the restrictions imposed to control illegal fishing.
Mr Kassim Agaba, the Chairperson for the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) at Kaiso primary school, said previous attempts to round up the children and arrest the parents did not bear fruits because of the population being mixed with nationals, migrants and some refugees disguising as visitors.
“It became complicated that it needed stakeholders at different levels to work together,” he said.
Some children and parents are being demoralised by the poor learning environment where classrooms are already full to capacity.
“You find one classroom filled with about 90 pupils learning while some are standing. You don’t find sense in chasing after those on streets when you have failed to handle the ones available,” he said.
Mr Agaba’s recommended that the matter should be holistically handled.
The stakeholders could not readily avail the statistics of either the children who dropped out of school or never attended school in their life.
The meeting also established that the Alur community members from Congo find a friendly environment to settle with the Alur community members of Uganda regardless of whether they register as refugees or remain as asylum seekers.
Ms Sylvia Kemigisa, the Kaiso Women’s Group Chairperson, said the situation has escalated early marriages and child involvement in drug abuse an child labour that are ruining the future of Kaiso and the world at large since children remain children no matter their origin.
“Whether they are Congolese or Ugandans, they have a right to education. As resolved, we shall bring the issue to the attention of the Office of the Prime Minister which is responsible for refugees,” she said.
Authorities at the nearest Kyangwali Refugee Settlement could not readily comment on the matter as they requested time to investigate the claims and make a comprehensive response.
The number of school going age children on the streets and in rural communities of Bunyoro region is confirmed to be growing.
This has been linked to people fleeing armed conflicts in the neighbouring DR Congo, internal land evictions in Bunyoro and child neglect speeded up by domestic violence.
Authorities in the regional capital – Hoima city, last month reported that there were more than 600 children engaged in child labour in the city alone.
Buliisa district, last month reported 133 cases child neglect since January 2023 which was record high compared to 125 recorded in the whole of 2022.