Innocent by name…

There’s a boy named Innocent who lives just across the way from us, around 13 years old. He can barely read, has been out of school more than what he has been in school, and certainly is neglected by his family. His father is a solider and has remarried. The father spends the majority of his time away from the family and Innocent is left under the care of his uncle and aunty who clearly do not care for the boy a way a caring mother and father would. Innocent is known as a local thief and acts more like a streetkid even though he has a ‘home’ to live in.

Innocent attends one of the lowest performing government schools in our neighbourhood and his family has not paid school fees (about 30,000 shillings a term – £6.50, $11) for over a year. He also often complains of not getting fed very often at home; without a doubt he is a neglected child.

Over the past couple of years we have tried to tutor Innocent in reading and writing. We have had him do numerous jobs to try and earn his school fees.

But recently, things started to fall apart more than normal.

During the last school holidays we had organised peer tutoring. Dan had also organised for him to sell some goods at the small trading centre, which would be used to pay for his school fees. Here, we generally don’t like to be known to just give people money; in our eyes it is more empowering and respectful if we give someone the opportunity to earn it.

While Innocent was attempting to earn some of his school fees he stole 60,000 Ugandan shillings (about £13; $21) from a shopkeeper in the small trading centre. Someone saw him and a mob quickly formed. One of the workers called Innocent wanted to give him a terrible beating for spoiling their name. Our boda friend Denis intervened, thankfully, and gave Innocent a ‘controlled beating’ – otherwise he would have been left for dead. Mob justice is a frequent occurrence in our community.

Innocent’s small holiday trading ended and he was banned from the trading centre. Not long afterwards he was accused of stealing a small stove, mosquito net and money from his neighbour. It is hard to know for sure it was Innocent, however he was blamed and beaten severely for it.

There are numerous times like these ones. Like when I heard Innocent wailing in a nearby gutter, his arm swollen. I enquired what had happened: his brother had beaten him with a branch for not slashing enough of the compound.

Community gossip claim that Innocent was injected with a herb (maybe onion?) under his skin when he was a small child and that has placed a ‘stealing curse’ on him.

We continued to feel sorry for Innocent and try to intervene where we could. Although we were disheartened that he stole from the trading centre, we again got him to do some gardening work for us to pay his school fees off. This continued until we were alerted that spaghetti, eggs, cooking oil and milk was stolen from the small hut in our compound (where we used to live). At first Innocent flatly denied stealing it. But later he admitted it and we have been forced to also ban him from our compound.

We have spoken to his school head teacher about the situation, but no-one appears to want to act or do anything about it.

We haven’t given up on Innocent, however the next step would be the local probation officer. Please pray for the future of Innocent.

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