With 10,000 street children and nearly 40 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, there are plenty of vulnerable children across Uganda. She remembers the scenes she witnessed when she first returned to the country after studying Children’s Law in the UK.
‘The conflict with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) was at its peak and there were these children on the streets, walking miles, with just a black polythene bag to sleep on. I felt a passion for these little ones – they are innocent; circumstances had forced them to live the way they did.’
Whether the children became caught up in crime or not, Celia realised that they desperately needed someone to speak on their behalf.
Her team work largely inside remand facilities, providing counselling and emotional support as well as offering legal assistance to children and young people. They have met with hundreds of young people, often inside Kampala’s grim remand centres. Winning the children’s trust isn’t always easy, but Celia says she has this down to a fine art.
‘There is a way I interview them; I’ll ask "My dear, what do they say you did? So sorry." Often they’ll open up and tell you everything, and I can prepare the gist of my legal case from this.'
As she talks with them, she finds the same reasons the children are in trouble cropping up again and again; ‘It could be lack of food that forces them into stealing,’ Celia explains. ‘Or parenting – they could be orphaned. And some of them are lured into doing crimes by adults.'