Uganda still in need of stronger child protection mechanisms

Uganda has ratified a number of international and regional treaties and conventions including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which legally obliges the state to protect the rights of all children, including those in conflicts and in contact with the law.
At national level, the Children’s Act Cap. 59 has in place full safeguards for the rights of all children in the country. The adoption of the Children’s Act was a giant stride in harmonising the national laws with international treaties which Uganda has signed and ratified. The Act was also meant to shield children from all forms of abuse. Child abuse consists of any act of commission or omission that endangers or impairs a child’s physical or emotional health and development.

Good policies without implementation are, however, of little benefit, there is need to ensure that justice systems fully conform with the right of the child as stated in article 40 of the CRC to be treated in a manner which promotes a child’s sense of dignity and worth. This is because children are prone to abuses yet they have peculiar psycho-social needs.

Therefore, the focus of a comprehensive care and support system must be in the best interest of a child. Duty bearers should primarily consider the children’s interests in all decisions concerning treatment, trial, custody and reprimand. Rehabilitation and reintegration of children ought to be the ultimate goal of each decision. In spite of the hitches, that mar the administration of justice for children in Uganda, the Children’s Act, has bridged the gap that existed before its enactment.

The legal framework supports juvenile courts, although such courts are not in practice, “separate” from the usual criminal courts that are used by adults.

The Children’s Act has immensely improved the lives of many Ugandan children, especially street children as it guarantees their rights to health and medical care, of which are the responsibility of the parents, the extended family and the government.

The provisions of the Children’s Act also empowers the police to caution and release child offenders without recourse to formal hearings, thus taking on a more rehabilitative approach.

Nonetheless, there are still a number of problems to surmount. Uganda’s severe economic and social difficulties have prevented the full realisation of children’s rights, and there is concern over the inadequate enforcement of legislation to ensure the “physical and mental integrity” of all children. Ugandan children, child activists and children organisations are pinning their hopes on the full implementation of the Children’s Act to improve the nation’s youth.

There was hope that the legislation would dramatically change the neglect and abuse of children’s rights since it outlaws any form of discrimination against children.

A 2013 Foundation for Human Rights Initiative report revealed that children are often detained for petty offences due to undeveloped structured diversionary methods, difficulty in determining the actual statistical information on the number of children in detention and ineffective monitoring and evaluation mechanism which impedes progress in eliminating practices that violate the rights of children in conflict with the law, such as arbitrary arrests, lengthy pre-trial detention, violence and substandard conditions in facilities for juvenile deprived of liberty.

A considerable percentage of children appearing before the juvenile courts are street children.

Although the care and protection system is conceptually separate from the criminal justice system, the two systems appear to merge in practice. Both groups, of children are picked up and held in the same police cells, and are treated similarly at courts.

Rights and aocacy groups especially ANPPCAN, is alarmed about the physical and sexual abuse of Ugandan street children and the increasing burden of HIVAids on orphans that prematurely forces them into adult roles coupled with inadequate access to education, especially for girl children.

A little more needs to be done on the following: legal representation of children should be strengthened, since there is currently not so effective state-paid legal aid system.

Provision of legal aid to children who cannot afford lawyers need to be well structured with clear provisions on how it will be facilitated child protection measures in Uganda need to be implemented effectively and fully.

Compliance with such legislation would increase if the magnitude of the problem and better knowledge about the factors that put children at risk was available to both state and non-state actors national and local government officials should put an end to organised roundups of street children, hold police and others accountable for abuses, and provide improved access for these children to education and health care.

Though the fact that some street children commit crimes is undisputed, a difficulty is that poverty-related crimes which are the majority are amongst the most difficult to prevent without broad reaching socio-economic reforms.

Street childhood- which is directly linked to poverty – is among the major drawbacks. It has prevented children from developing their potential to earn higher incomes later in life, and will slacken national economic growth in the long term.

Also, involving stakeholders, especially agencies charged with protection, as well as involving affected children, would highlight the issues and thereby promote adherence to protection policies.

Denis Angeri, Project Support, Alternatives Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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