KAPUAT, Uganda, 4 January 2010 - At first sight, John Bosco Abura is a carefree 15-year-old boy. Happy and cheerful, he enjoys his studies at Kapuat Primary School. Yet behind his bright eyes and wide smile, the boy masks the scars of two traumatic years spent on the streets of the capital, Kampala.
"I went to Kampala with my mother in 2004," says Abura. "My father had been killed earlier in 2001 when raiders took all the cattle away from our home in Kotido, so my mother thought we would have a better life in the city."
However, mother and son found themselves forced to beg and scavenge in order to survive.
"Life in Kampala was very hard," said Abura.
A hostile environment
Things became worse when Abura's mother was killed by a taxi. At ten-years-old he was alone in a hostile environment, forced to give money to street gang leaders for food and shelter and severely beaten if he couldn't come up with the payment.
Like Abura, dozens of other Karamajong children and adults have been lured to the streets of Kampala in search of a better life, only to find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of begging and scavenging.
Abura's ordeal came to an end in November 2007, when he, along undreds of other Karamajong children and adults, was taken off the streets and brought to a UNICEF-supported transit centre.
Dangers of migration
UNICEF-supported organisations resettle unaccompanied children like Abura and educate communities about the real dangers of migrating to the cities.
"Those who were sent back to Karamoja in 2007 say they went to Kampala to escape famine and insecurity," says John Bosco Ngoya, a priest who has worked in Karamoja since 1986. Along with other community leaders in Moroto, Mr. Ngoya created the Bokora Initiative for Sustainable Resettlement Programme (BISREP).
UNICEF and its partners make sure returnees get basic supplies such as food, accommodation and medical treatment. They also provide training for social workers who help people resettle into the community.
Enrolled in school
Children are enrolled in one of the ten UNICEF-supported schools that have taken Karamajong children returning from Kampala. The programme also works at a broad level to identify and protect vulnerable children.
"We are working with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to introduce better social work methods, in order to ensure the protection of the rights of children living and working on the streets through the stages of identification, withdrawal from the streets, and reintegration back into their communities and homes," says UNICEF Chief of Child Protection in Uganda Cornelius Williams.
Abura is happy with his new life and studying hard in school.
"I want to work hard and become a bank manager because I am good at mathematics," he says. Returning to Kampala is the furthest thing on his mind. "I don't want any of my friends to suffer the way I did in Kampala, so I tell them not to go to the city," he said.