On February 28, Ms Ranny Ismail, a media officer at Parliament, wrote an important article in Daily Monitor chronicling how the Ministry of Gender had flouted Parliament’s Rules of Procedure and presented a Child (Amendments) Bill, 2014, yet Mr Bernard Atiku, Ayivu County MP, had also presented a private member’s Bill on child protection bearing the same title. In an amateurish attempt at outwitting the private member’s Bill, the Gender ministry, among others, forwarded a Bill with a photocopy of Certificate of Financial Implications whose original copy had earlier been issued by the Finance ministry to MP Atiku.
It should be noted that on November 20, 2014, as part of the events to commemorate the 25 years of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Parliament of Uganda observed a special session during which Atiku was granted leave to present a private member’s Bill on the Children’s Act Amendment.
While seated in the stranger’s gallery as an observer, I witnessed then deputy Attorney General, Mr Fred Ruhindi, stand up and pledge government’s total cooperation to the Bill. The private member’s Bill came at a backdrop of many failed efforts to get the Executive to table the Bill for more than 10 years since the request for a review of the law was first presented to the Uganda Law Reform Commission in 2004.
The process of reviewing the Children’s Act started in 2004. This process has taken 11 years. Does this long delay demonstrate a lack of capacity, a show of incompetence or it is an exhibition of political dishonesty and the need to protect vested interests of certain individuals within or linked to the ministry? Is it also possible that the ministry is uncomfortable with Atiku, an Opposition MP and shadow minister for youth and children affairs, being credited with the enactment of the Children’s Act?
It is important to note that although some progress has been made towards the realisation of the rights of children in Uganda, amending the Children’s Act was informed by the need to strengthen the law and save Ugandan children from exploitation. There is need to strengthen weak provisions on adoption, which has made it easy for many children to be taken out of the country using the avenue of guardianship orders. The current provisions of the Act do not take into account emerging forms of child abuse, including child sacrifice, pornography, sex tourism as well as corporal punishment, child labour and neglect. More so, the current evolving forms of vulnerability among children are not envisaged in the current provisions of the Act.
It is gratifying to know that the Gender ministry has hardworking and competent government technocrats. So as child rights promoters, we hope that in the next harmonisation committee arbitrated by the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Affairs, both camps will agree on how best to move forward. There is already a plausible suggestion that a more inclusive Bill among the two be adopted and then consolidated with the input of both parties. This presents a win-win solution.
Children constitute more than 62 per cent of the total population of Uganda and 51 per cent of these children are considered moderately to critically vulnerable to varied forms of abuse. Children are an important, yet very vulnerable segment of the population that must be protected. It is important that government and its agencies put skewed political and other narrow interests aside and support all efforts aimed at protection of the rights of children. The role of the civil society is to supplement government efforts. Where this relationship is misconstrued as antagonistic, it is millions of vulnerable children that suffer.
Mr Oramire is a child rights advocate. Stuartoramire@yahoo.com