I was hailing a boda boda (motorcycle taxi), when I heard a voice behind me ask if I would buy him some bread.
When I turned around I saw a barefooted boy about 12 years old. His short, black, curly hair was rusty-red from the dust of the iron rich african soil. His torn and faded blazer covered a stained and tattered t-shirt. His dirty oversized trousers cinched tight with a frayed nylon rope.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates there are 2.7 million orphans in Uganda, and approximately 10,000 of these children live on the streets. Poverty and HIV/AIDS are the main cause of the crisis.
When I looked at this kid, I was reminded of a story about an orphaned boy that was chased down and beaten to death by a mob, not far from where we stood, for stealing a piece of bread. He was only nine years old.
The police rarely investigate crimes against homeless children, as they are seen as criminals and thieves by the police and the community.
A few years ago, the local police rounded up the street kids, loaded them into a lorry, then drove to the forest and dumped them. One boy hid to avoid being taken, but later, when he was discovered by the police, he was taken to the stadium and shot dead. He was 14 years old.
I walked with the boy to a nearby market, but he was hesitant to follow me inside. When we entered, I soon understood his hesitation, as all eyes were on him as he perused the shelves of bread. He quickly chose a loaf, then carried it to the cash register. He placed the bread on the counter, mumbled something to the store clerk, then immediately left the market.
After I paid the clerk, he bagged the bread, but then, instead of handing it to me, he set it to the side. He explained that the boy would return later for the bread because if he were to take it with him, the older boys would steal it from him.
I left the market and found the boy waiting outside. He thanked me, then hailed a boda boda.
Through no fault of his own he is left to fend for himself. Instead of being embraced with love and compassion by the community, many of these kids are mentally, physically and sexually abused and exploited, with limited, or no access to an education, medical care, food and shelter.
As I rode away, I thought about the white loaf of bread he had chosen, and how it wouldn’t provide his malnourished body with the nutrients needs, it would only serve to dull his hunger. With the sun dipping below the horizon and the temperature cooling, I couldn’t help but wonder where he would sleep that night.