Police in Mayuge District have rescued 83 children from suspected traffickers who reportedly picked them from different parts of Busoga sub-region.
Police say the children, aged between five and 16 years, were found confined in a house in Wabulungu village, Magamaga town council, Mayuge District, after reportedly being picked from Bugiri, Iganga, Mayuge and Kamuli Districts.
The Mayuge District Police Commander, Ms Agnes Aanyu, said the children, most of whom she described as “emaciated”, were on Monday (today) set to be transported to an ungazetted area under the guise of being enrolled in different schools.
Ms Aanyu said concerned residents tipped Police after noticing that the children were living in deplorable conditions.
“We got there with my team, including the chief administrative officer (CAO), resident district commissioner (RDC), and found boys sharing the same shelter with girls in bad living conditions,” Ms Aanyu said on Monday.
Ms Aanyu further revealed that 40-year-old Justine Namugere, who was informing the children’s parents that she had secured bursaries for them, was arrested and is being detained at Mayuge Central Police Station.
According to Ms Aanyu, Ms Namugere is said to have been using her organisation identified as NAMU Mission-Uganda to convince parents to give her their children with a promise to offer them scholarships.
“We were not aware of this organisation’s existence, work and have preferred charges of child trafficking against the suspect. I urge all parents whose children had been taken under an arrangement with NAMU-Uganda to crosscheck with Police and pick them,” Ms Aanyu added.
Ms Namugere, however, says her organisation is “legally recognised” and blamed “sabotage” for her woes and eventual arrest. “My organisation is legally known all over the country and I even have certificates allowing me to operate in Mayuge and Iganga (districts),” she said.
Ms Namugere also confessed to picking up the children from different parts of Busoga with an aim of enrolling them in schools for cheaper education, but not human trafficking as it is being alleged.
The Mayuge deputy RDC, Mr Hamis Kiganira, described Ms Namugere’s narrative as a “scapegoat”, saying there are cheap private and government-aided (universal primary education) schools in the area.
Mr Kiganira said sub-counties in Mayuge District, especially those bordering water bodies like Malongo, are prone to child trafficking, with some of the children reportedly being trafficked for rebel activities.
He, however, says the problem is being minimised by the intensified work of security through the office of the RDC.