In 1990, Uganda ratified the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. To further domesticate this most-widely ratified human rights treaty in history, government took deliberate steps to put in place local laws that speak to the primacy of championing the welfare of children in Uganda. On the long menu of legal prescriptions, we have the Constitution, the Children’s Act, the Birth and Deaths Registration Act among others. To augment these laws, a cocktail of pro-child welfare policies followed one after another.
Despite of this plethora of interventions, a UNICEF Uganda Situation Analysis of Children in Uganda launched in July 2015 reveals troubling facts despite of a few, scattered improvements to write home about.
For example, despite of having a law in place to regulate registration of births, nearly 3 million (40%) of children under five are not registered at birth in Uganda. How then do we expect to plan and meticulously execute any intervention to protect these unregistered children whom we know no much of?
The Mobile Vital Registration System needs to be strengthened to facilitate registration of births because it is the first primary intervention point in any effort to protect children.
In 2006, Uganda put in place the Child Labour Policy to check the persistent problem of child labour. This is 2015 and we continue to have over 2.4 million children engaging in exploitative child labour. Half of 5-17 year-old children in Uganda are in work places instead of being in classrooms where they belong.
As the informal sector thrives in the country, the debate is on how best Uganda Revenue Authority can tax them; the real debate is being missed. UNICEF’s Situation Analysis reveals that majority of the workers in Uganda’s informal sector are children; with a huge percentage being involved in hazardous working conditions. How can we afford to look away from this? Should we be discussing taxation rather than striving to save our future?
In 1997, the National Universal Primary Education Policy was put in place but 18 years on, we continue to see over 3 million (3-5 year olds) out of pre-primary school. Despite of high school enrolment rates in primary at the rate of 94%, dropout rates are just as high with only 2 out of 3 children enrolling completing their primary school education. Most of those who dropout form the more than half of children aged 5-17 who are in active hazardous employment in the informal sectors.
At secondary level, only 24% make it to school and yet the dropout rates remain as high with only 16% of secondary-aged children in classroom. Teacher absenteeism rates continue to soar. Today, at least 60% of our teachers are not in class. The 40% of the teachers who are in classrooms exhibit serious competency issues with only 1 out of 5 primary teachers having competency in English and Mathematics. This situation cannot go unabated and yet we continue to chest thump of how we are committed to child development.
We must get all children to a class where there is a teacher who is equipped to deliver quality education. Full stop. This has no shortcut.
In 2004, government developed the National Orphans and Vulnerable Children Policy (NOP) to protect the vulnerable groups amongst our children. 11 years on and research continues to highlight troubling findings despite of the little ground covered.
For example, UNICEF report indicates that two-thirds of around 2.5 million children living with a disability in Uganda receive no form of intervention. They are either at the mercy of often very impoverished households in rural areas or on the street. Government provides no special support to children living with albinism despite of the critical basic needs they need to protect their skins from sunshine and eyesight. No donations of lotions, huts, or sunglasses.
The state of Orphans and other Vulnerable Children (OVC) who form 11% of Uganda’s children population is described as “either moderately or critically vulnerable.” Amidst this vulnerability, there has been a sharp rise in the number of street children. Uganda currently has at least 10,000 street children, which represents a sharp 70%, increase since 1993. Other vulnerable children who have managed to secure homes leave in unregistered childcare homes. Most of the 500 childcare centres in the country which host at least 40,000 homeless children remain unregistered. These institutions have custody of vulnerable children and yet operate unregulated and with no legal status. How sure can we be of the safety of the children in these facilities?
Adolescent girls further continue to experience physical and sexual violence. UNICEF research reveals that 58% of 15-19 year old girls have been physically or sexually assaulted. Of these girls, at least 15% get married at the age of 15 years. On teenage pregnancy, 45% of 15-19 year-old young women who get pregnant have no education. This suggests that if we keep the young women of this country in school, we shall effectively slash down teenage pregnancy percentages.
In all this pandemonium our systems in one or another subject our children too, we surely expect them to come into conflict with the law. However, when they do, we have no comprehensive policy and strategic framework to guide the Justice Law and Order Sector interventions for children in conflict with the law.
Although such framework is no silver bullet, we need one to guide interventions. Government has to take deliberate steps to bankroll juvenile justice structures such as remand and rehabilitation homes in all districts and establish special children courts rather than subjecting juveniles to adult criminal justice structures and systems.
From my experience, I can categorically state that our criminal justice system almost deliberately works to transform a petty non-violent juvenile offender into a hardcore adult criminal rather seek to rehabilitate.
The more you thoroughly analyze these statistics and the trend overtime, the more it becomes lucid that inequality and discrimination form the basis of these children’s rights violations and further exposes them to violence and all forms of abuse. The UNICEF Representative Aida Girma would not put it any better.
“Investing in the poorest and most disadvantaged children is not only morally right, sustainable development will be impossible without it,” said UNICEF’s Aida Girma. “We need to make smarter, more targeted investments to ensure that all children have a fair chance in life”
In the end, the overarching question each of us should not stop asking ourselves is how best can we tackle the social, political, cultural or economic disadvantage that often prefigures the challenges our children face? We must deliberately elect to smartly #InvestInUgChildren if we are going to make Uganda a more child-friendly place.