Four Kenyan children are being held in Uganda’s Luzira Maximum Security Prison for engaging in illegal fishing on that country’s side of Lake Victoria.
The four include two secondary school students, one of whom is a KCSE candidate, and two in Standard Eight.
The candidates risk missing their national exams this year after Ugandan authorities slapped each with a Sh50,000 fine or a jail term of six months.
Efforts by their parents and guardians to have them released have been futile.
“We are unable to raise the fine. I tried to convince [prison authorities] to release the school-going children when I visited the prison last week but they were adamant,” said Mr Denis Sikhembo.
“They insisted that the law on juveniles applies only in Kenya and maintained that they will have to pay the fine like everyone else before being set free.”
He said the boys are living in dreadful conditions and are forced to work on farms with little food and no medication.
The children were among 60 Kenyan fishermen arrested by Ugandan security officers on several beaches in Budalangi and Funyula on Lake Victoria in the last few months.
Family members say the four, who were presented in a Kampala court, were found guilty of being in possession of illegal fishing gear.
The Standard Eight candidates at Busembe Primary School are Kennedy Ojaju and Bendon Ababu, while Stephen Barasa (Form Four) and Benard Ouma (Form One) are students at Sisenye Mixed Secondary School in Busia County.
Ms Lillian Ochieng urged the government to intervene, raising concerns that her son, who was arrested on April 9, is suffering while his fellow students are back in school.
“I am appealing to the government to help me secure the release of my fourth-born, who is a Form One student at Sisenye Secondary School so he can report back to school,” she stated.
Millicent Ojuku, the mother of 16-year-old Kennedy Ojaju, asked well-wishers to help.
“All I am requesting is for someone to help me free my son. He needs to get back to school. Others are already in school but mine is still confined within the walls of the Luzira prisons,” she said.
However, Busia County Commissioner Ahmed Omar said the government was aware of only two cases of children detained in Uganda.
He said one of them was released on Tuesday, May 3, after his parents paid a fine of Sh30,000.
“We are only aware of two cases of minors in Luzira Maximum Prison in Uganda. But there is nothing we can do and they will have to pay the fine or serve the jail term of six months,” he said.
The administrator faulted Kenyan fishermen for defying established rules and regulations when fishing.
He said fishermen have been warned about using illegal fishing gear but in vain.
“Our people are the problem. We have sensitised them but they are not cooperating. Ugandans will not entertain them when they fail to adhere to laid-down rules when fishing,” he said.
“We have done what we can. Let them do their part or they will live complaining of harassment from Ugandan authorities.”