As the third term begins, the police force has issued a warning to school administrators and parents concerning the growing presence of student gangs. According to Uganda police spokesperson Fred Enanga, some children have become victims of these gangs in schools but have chosen to remain silent.
During the holiday break, some children shared information with police officers, revealing that these school gangs have coerced them into drug abuse and, in some cases, even criminal activities. The gangs employ tactics like bullying and assault to recruit students, pressuring them into joining for protection within the school environment.
Enanga emphasizes that these gangs have distinct dress codes that may not be immediately noticeable to school administrators and parents. He stated, “Children join gangs when they have low self-esteem, lack identity, seek importance, companionship, security, positive alternative activities, parental involvement, or succumb to peer pressure.”
Child specialist Moses Ntenga, founder of Joy for Children, an NGO advocating for children’s rights, adds that forming or joining school gangs can also result from factors such as a lack of parental love, poor academic performance, and disinterest in education.
“Young people who dislike school, perform poorly academically, and lack commitment to education are more likely to engage in problematic behavior. They are more susceptible to joining gangs compared to other youths,” Ntenga said.
Ntenga’s perspective aligns with Enanga’s statement that some children admitted they felt compelled to join drug gangs, believing it would boost their academic performance. Thus, negative comments, insults, or ridicule from peers or parents about their academic struggles can drive some children to make this unfortunate choice.
The police have identified several signs that parents, guardians, and school administrators can watch for to recognize children who have joined or formed gangs. These signs include changes in clothing style or color, withdrawal from family, declining grades, poor school attendance, unexplained sources of money or new possessions, gang-related tattoos, and the use of nicknames.
Enanga encouraged parents to spend quality time with their children, engage in activities together, and participate in events in which their children are involved. He emphasized the importance of respecting their children’s feelings and attitudes and helping them develop a strong sense of self-esteem.
During the previous term, Senior four and six students from Old Kampala Secondary School were arrested by the police in Nansana during a smoking festival. Local residents reported drug smells and loud music coming from a house, leading to police intervention. However, the head teacher of Old Kampala SS, Williams Ssuuna, blamed the police for not taking swift action to prevent the students’ smoking festival, despite being alerted during the daytime by some of the students.
Ntenga believes that joining gangs is sometimes viewed as a way to connect with peers, especially among adolescents. He also notes that children from violent families that create feelings of insecurity may be pushed to join gangs. “Some children and adolescents are motivated to join a gang for a sense of connection or to redefine their identity. Others are driven by peer pressure, inadequate parental supervision, the absence of one or both parents, and violent family environments,” Ntenga said.
In the previous year, in Kira Division, Kira Municipality, police arrested four men who were supplying drugs to students, deceiving them into believing that these substances would help them excel in exams. The drugs were deceptively disguised as cookies, biscuits, and sweets.