Children queue outside a bakery after having spent the night sleeping on the street in downtown Lira, North Uganda. Picture: MARCO LONGARI

Johannesburg -

Ugandan street children face constant abuse from police and government officials, who beat and extort bribes from them, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday.

Police as well as Kampala city officials detain street children after targeted roundups, an HRW representative told dpa.

They beat them with batons, whips and wires as punishment for vagrancy or to extort bribes as a condition for letting them go, according to the 71-page report, titled, Where Do You Want Us To Go? Abuses Against Street Children in Uganda.”

Children have also been forced to clean police cells and living quarters.

The exact number of street children is not known.

But more than half of Ugandans are under 15 years old.

Poverty has driven large numbers of children to live on the streets after their parents died of Aids or because they fled the rebellion of the Lord's Resistance Army in the north of the country.

Homeless children are also beaten and forced to take drugs by older street children or adults, the report said.

Boys and girls living on the street reported rape or other sexual assault.

Police officers “take money from us. If you do not have money, they beat you so much,” a 13-year-old boy living on the street in Lira in the north told HRW.

“Last week ... police came in the night and beat me when I was sleeping with three other children. The policeman beat me on the thighs with a rubber whip. He then hit my knees with a baton. He beat me until I gave him 1 000 shillings (40 US cents) and left me,” the boy told HRW in December 2013.

Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher with the group, said: “Instead of being able to turn to the police or local government officials for help when they've been abused, children find themselves living in fear of the authorities meant to protect them.”

HRW interviewed more than 130 current or former street children as well as organisations assisting them, health workers, police and government officials. - Sapa-dpa