The State Minister for Youth and Children Affairs Ms. Florence Nakiwala-Kiyingi has commended the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) for assessing the compatibility of Ugandan laws on children with international conventions. In her remarks at the national dialogue organized by the UHRC to disseminate its special report on the Assessment of the Compatibility of Ugandan Legislation with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Minister Nakiwala said she had already discovered gaps in Ugandan laws, especially in respect of talented children.
“I am an implementing partner with UHRC and a regulator but from what I have observed, the docket of children in Uganda is not regulated. There is a tendency for some people in Uganda to ignore issues of children yet they currently face a number of concerns such as cases of starving babies whose food and milk has been consumed by the care givers (maids); the scrupulous people who deny orphans their legal inheritance and parents who abdicate their duty of taking children to school among others. There have of late been issues with talented children like Fresh Kid, raising concerns on issues like what the actual gains for the mother/parents are and whether the child’s managers fully account for the profits from his talent without the risks of exploitation. It is therefore important for us as professionals to have the current laws amended to address these gaps in order to protect the rights of all children in Uganda,” she noted.
The minister also called for criminalizing and sanctioning of people who exploit children as well as the need for Uganda to make all human rights violations against children an aggravated offence. She informed the meeting that her ministry is moving towards bridging the gaps between regulations and Acts by for instance having a uniform definition of who a child is and a uniform age of consent in all these documents.
In his remarks, the Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission, Mr. Med S.K Kaggwa revealed that cases of human rights violations are reported to the Commission by both the children themselves and some adults. He pointed out that most of the cases received by the Commission have grievous effect on the welfare of the child and therefore call for urgent interventions mainly through strategies such as review of the current legislation. Mr. Kaggwa observed that such purposeful strategies will guarantee advancement in the protection and promotion of the rights of children in Uganda.
“Although Uganda has ratified regional and international standards on the rights of the child like the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified in 1990 and its related two Optional Protocols, namely the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as taking measures to ensure that all laws, administrative structures and law enforcement mechanisms are in conformity with both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the recently amended Children’s Act (2015), there are still some gaps that need to be filled in order to provide a solid foundation for the enjoyment of human rights by all children without discrimination of any kind,” he stated.
Mr. Kaggwa also revealed that it was because of the gaps identified in the current legal regime, that the UHRC with support from the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) conducted an assessment on how the rights and obligations set out in the CRC are protected in Uganda, and how to achieve effective and beneficial implementation of the Convention. He said the report under review today which is the product of the assessment had analyzed the compatibility of 37 statutes that were ratified by Uganda under the CRC and other related treaties with the aim of making necessary recommendations to Government to address the gaps.
“The study established that some legislation including those related to nationality; child protection; alternative care; juvenile justice; crimes against children and the treatment of child victims in Uganda was to a large extent compatible with the CRC. However, some laws were found to have gaps and therefore not compliant with some of the standards in the CRC as well as other international and regional human rights treaties. The analysis presented in the report today and the input from the participants will certainly help to guide on the relevant legislative reforms,” he asserted. He reminded the participants that whereas the report, brochure and braille versions were launched on July 17, 2018 in Kampala, the main purpose of today’s meeting was to have a national dialogue to disseminate the contents of the compatibility report and to share the feedback from regional dialogues that were held earlier in the UHRC10 regional offices located across the country.
UHRC’s Director of Monitoring and Inspections Ms. Ruth Ssekindi took the meeting though the different legislations, the gaps there in and the required amendments. She highlighted gaps in laws on provisions on the right to identity, Child Protection, Alternative Care, Juvenile Justice and Crimes against children. She also shared findings on gaps in other laws including the rights and treatment of child victims; Health; Education; Children with disabilities; and laws on Marriage, Divorce and Property. On Juvenile Justice, Ms. Sekindi noted that the statutory provisions on the rights and treatment of juveniles deprived of liberty are inadequate. She pointed out that Section 59 of the Prisons Act which allows infant children to remain with imprisoned mothers is incompatible with Article 30 in the General Comment of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child which prohibits imprisonment of a mother with a child.
“The Children Act should be amended to ensure that it recognizes the fundamental rights of juveniles deprived of liberty which among others include the right to access to education and training; contact with families; and access to activities designed to reduce the risk of re-offending. The Act should be amended to also recognize aftercare as a right for children released from detention to access necessary assistance for reintegration into the family and community. The Penal Code and the Prisons Act should also be amended to bring them into harmony with Article 30 of the African Charter, concerning children of convicted and imprisoned mothers,” she added.
The other legislation recommended for amendment in the report included the Registration of Persons Act; Refugee Act; Prisons Act; Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act; Anti-Pornography Act (2014); HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act; Immunization Act as well as the Education Act. Others including the Persons with Disabilities Act, Hindu Marriage Act, Customary Marriage Registration Act and Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act were also identified as laws requiring amendment to make them compatible with the Convention on Children’s Rights (CRC).
Presenting the views of fellow children, a one Murungi Mercy Peace, a Primary Six Pupil at Flobbeto Nursery and Primary School in Hoima District thanked government for reducing child mortality but raised concerns that the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme in Uganda was not entirely free. She pointed out cases where parents currently pay school fees as high as UG Shs 400,000 in schools under the UPE programme. Ms. Murungi noted that such a practice is contrary to provisions of international laws under which states have an obligation to ensure that primary education is compulsory, available and free.
“This has led to increasing number of school dropouts. You now find children sniffing petrol, picking scrap like what is happening in Karamoja and in the Eastern Region of Uganda. Some of the children are working as housemaids especially in Hoima District and we have bush children who have no permanent place of abode but move from village to village stealing, stoning cars and committing other petty offences because they have not had the opportunity to go to school,” she noted. She also expressed fears that government failure to address the problem of school dropout at Primary level will inevitably result into a drop in the enrollment levels for the newly introduced free secondary education programme. She said Hoima district does not for instance have any school for the disabled and parents with disabled children have to take them to Masindi district which is not affordable for some.
Ms. Rebecca Tino, the UHRC Hoima Regional Human officer presented consolidated highlights of what transpired during the regional dissemination dialogues that were held in the Commission’s ten regional offices last year. Ms. Tino reported that the regional meetings were attended by over 450 people who included District Probation Officers, District Education Officers, District Health Officers, District Child and Family Protection Officers, Representatives from DPP, Judiciary, Resident State Attorneys, Representatives of PWDs and Primary School children in the company of their teachers. She presented highlights of key issues and recommendations in the report from the UHRC regional offices of Hoima, Mbarara, Soroti, Jinja, Masaka, Moroto, Ariua, Kampala Central Region, Gulu and Fort Portal which among others called for enhancing budget allocations to Village Health teams to address the need for improved health care for primary schools; engaging relevant stakeholders to address the rights of children with special needs; enhancing awareness on laws pertaining to children and the need to bridge the knowledge gap on spread of HIV/Aids at school level.
Discussions during the plenary of the national dialogue saw participants from various government ministries, departments and agencies voicing a number of issues in form of clarification, additional information and proposals aimed at enriching and ensuring effective implementation of the report. James Emoko the Assistant Commissioner of Prisons gave assurances to the meeting that the rights of children born in prison by incarcerated mothers are strictly observed and respected by Prison authorities. Jackson Nuwamanya from Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations (UNASO) argued that the local community level be given priority while making interventions to address children’s rights because a high percentage of negative effects on children commonly occur in rural areas. The discussions also revealed that concerns of persistent prevalence of the practice of genital mutilation in Sebei Sub-region had been compounded by the insufficient budget allocation to Probation officers which limits their ability to enforce the law.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission pledged to ensure that recommendations requiring the review and amendment of laws will be forwarded to Parliament and the Law Reform Commission accordingly for further management.