The street children are not recognised by the government nor are they legally allowed to offer security, but residents hire them for as low as Shs5,000 to provide security services at night.
Mr Musa Matovu, a resident of Saveya Cell in Nyamityobora in Mbarara City North Division, says he has enjoyed security services of street children for two years.
“I used to find them around the Total Petrol Station opposite Amahembe g’ente Round About, and give them some money to buy food and other goodies. We became friends and every evening they would insist ‘Mzee we have to escort you home’,” narrated Mr Matovu.
He says they would walk with him for almost one kilometre to his home almost every day.
Mr Matovu says he later changed the route leading to his home to dodge them after realising that they might commit crimes and the community members might link them to him.
Ms Harriet Asasira, who vends food at night opposite Mbarara Bus Park, says she has enjoyed security services of these street children for a year.
“At first, they had turned into a problem, forcing me to give them free food. If you refused, they would waylay you and beat you and take all your money. But we became friends, they now escort me after work to my home, which is over a kilometre from my place of work,” she says.
“I had a boyfriend who later turned wild at me. He would assault me and take all the money I work for. One time, my afandes (street kids) saw me with bruises. They asked me who did this to me and they gave him a lesson,” she adds.
Mr Aggrey Kizito, who operates a kiosk at Markhansing Street, says the street children also offer security to sex workers operating on the corridors of Mbarara City High Street.
“Most of these corridors and bars you see here are full of sex workers at night, these sex workers work with street children to offer them security. Should you fail to pay a sex worker or attempt to assault her, you face their wrath,” he says.
He, however, adds that they are at times used by sex workers to rob their clients after realising that they have a big some of money.
A sex worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says they work with street children for their security and protection from defaulters.
“Some men cheat us. We cannot take them to the police, but we have our army (street kids) here who can do us a good job,” she explains.
She says there is no specific pay for their services, adding that they sometimes buy the children cigarettes or give them money, depending on how productive the night was.
The street kids also provide security to business people during the night on Victor Bwana Road. It is alleged that some business premises are guarded by street children at night.
“This is a high crime area hiding many criminals from Kajogo and Biafra, you cannot operate a business here without security, but hiring private security and guards is very expensive,” Ms Harriet Naluwooza, who operates a shop, on Victor Bwana road says.
“I can spend on these street children less than Shs50,000 a month. But at times, I also give them some food and other things like old clothes and shoes from home. For the last two years, I have been with them, my shop has never been broken into,” she adds.
Mr Julius Kanyankore, a resident of Biafra, Kakiika in Mbarara City North, says some of the street children are hired to carry out illegal activities such as evictions and revenge missions.
“We have witnessed many situations where these street children are hired for havoc. When some people have a conflict with others, they just hire the street children to waylay and beat them,” he says.
Mr Ambrose Mwesigye, the secretary for defence at Kakiika in Mbarara City North Division, says: “We have always warned residents against involving street children in personal affairs because they are their friends today, but can turn against them the next day since they are not always sober, most of them use drugs.”
A street children who goes by the name Street Master, says they are not criminals.
“I am in charge of these badogo (children) and they are 20 in number. We ensure they are disciplined and whoever commits a crime like stealing people’s money is disciplined,’’ he says.
“If anyone wants protection, we have enough manpower and training. We have a morning parade, do exercises and skills and that is when we make accountability,” he adds.
Master says they earn between Shs50,000 and Shs80,000 per day, but it is inclusive of other activities such as collecting garbage and doing other odd jobs.
The Rwizi region police spokesperson, Mr Samson Kasasira, acknowledges the increasing number of street children in Mbarara, but says he is not aware that they provide security services.
Mr Kasasira says street children have become a menance in the city, accusing them of raping women and snatching people’s belongings.
He says some of the victims, however, do not report the cases to police
Mbarara City mayor Robert Mugabe Kakyebezi says they lack remand homes.
He adds that using street children for security is illegal and they are working with police to arrest those involved.
Soul of Hope Ministrie, a non-governmental organisation that takes care of street children in Mbarara City, estimates that there are more than 400 street children in the city.