‘Law on witchcraft should be changed’

Mr Macheta emphasises a point as he talked to Thoughts&Ideas last week. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE.

Regional problem. Recent media reports have indicated that Ugandan children are at risk of being sacrificed by witch doctors, with the freshest case being in Gulu where two children survived being slaughtered by perpetrators of witch craft. John Tugume interviewed Kole County MP Fred Ebil (UPC), who is also a member of the Human rights committee of Parliament, on how the vice can be done away with.

1. Child sacrifice seems to be cropping up again in the country, what is the parliamentary committee on Human rights doing to keep this vice away forever?
We as MPs have decided to have field trips to find out the causes of child trafficking and child sacrifice and get other emerging details. As a committee, we shall discuss the way forward. That is to say we will write down the solutions from the field which is causing the increase of the level of child sacrifice and trafficking. To give a hint, some of the problems Ugandans are facing are poverty, ignorance, inadequate security, lack of surveillance systems especially in rural areas and the failure by responsible agencies and institutions of government like the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the police to have an outreach programme to every village in an attempt to sensitise the population on the indicators or agents of child sacrifice and trafficking, among other measures of preventing these heinous crimes.

2. What should be the role of Ugandans and parents in particular in all this?
As parents, we know that each of us has a responsibility to take care of our children. We must ensure that we look at all the threats to children. We should take the responsibility of our children seriously. For instance, which people come to talk to out maids? Or where are these maids really from?
All of us know very well that God handed responsibility to parents. Whatever they are doing is a responsibility given to them and not a favour. As a community, everyone should act as a brother’s and sister’s keeper.

3. Should legislation be changed to make it more difficult for those who perpetuate child sacrifice?
The law is very clear. Article 22 (1) of the 1995 Constitution of Republic of Uganda states that “no person shall be deprived of life intentionally.” Further, Section 188 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, creates the offense of murder for any person who intentionally causes the death of another person by an unlawful act. A child is by reason of Section 197 of the same Act deemed to be a person and therefore any person who unlawfully causes the death of a child is guilty of murder upon conviction by a competent court.

Article 6 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Uganda is a party States that Parties shall recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
We as MPs would like to request the government to increase the budget of the human rights commission so that they can go to the villages and sensitize people about the dangers of witchcraft. Even the budget for police should also be increased in order for them to sensitize the masses to desist from such practice. Actually the punishment is not equivalent to the weight of the vice. Because when you lose a child you never get him or her back. We need a very strong law that will deter others from doing the same.

4. There are reports that some medical workers connive with witch doctors to steal babies and sell them for sacrifice. As legislators, have you thought of any remedy?
Of recent I saw that but we are going to take it on. We also want the health committee to join the investigations. This is still an allegation that a baby was kidnapped at birth at Mulago hospital. We shall investigate it together with the police, the health workers and other security agencies. We need to tell the police and those responsible for the safety of children in hospitals to be on the lookout as well. Such elements who steal babies should be apprehended and face the law. As a Member of Parliament, I want to send a warning message to the perpetrators of this act, that at the moment you will run but you will not hide as the long arm of the law will catch up with you wherever you are hiding. In other words, to the mothers who have lost their children, we want to assure them that those criminals will be brought to justice.

5. Is there a law which prohibits witchcraft?
The law is there but was made by the colonialists. We need to tighten them to accommodate new developments. But there is general decline in security vigilance, thus people only care about their immediate relatives and whatever happens to other people’s children is none of their business. This mentality should be changed. The Act to make provision for the prevention of witch craft and punishing persons practicing witch craft has six sections. What is funny is the interpretation of witch craft. It interprets witch craft not to mean bona fide in spirit worship or bona fide on manufacture of native medicine. It does not stop witch craft. The definition is ambiguous.
Ironically threatening of death through witchcraft attracts a penalty of life imprisonment. If you practice witch craft, you get five years in jail; which is also ironical.

6. How are you going to work on children trafficked from the eastern part of Uganda into Kampala and then they are arrested by city authorities?

We are also planning to visit some of these areas where such children are being kept. These children live like semi-slaves in their own country. The government should be ashamed of this. Billions are being stolen by a few individuals yet thousands of children sleep hungry. These are the future leaders of this country. We should do everything possible to take care of them. Government should also know that they do not come to the streets because of their own making. The driving force is poverty. If poverty could be done away with, then there would be no children on the streets. Pump money into agriculture, education – not this kind of funny UPE – and then you will see the results.
The First Lady is in charge of Karamoja. Let her make sure that the money-hungry selfish businessmen and women stop grabbing people’s land, leaving parents and children without homes. It is good the President is working with a committee to investigate land grabbing in Karamoja. That is a very good move.

7. What is the best thing the government can do to protect children from all these dangers?
Definitely the children and youth need a full ministry. They are the majority of Ugandans yet the government doesn’t seem to care much about them. Other countries have such full ministries, why not Uganda? The children and youth have a raw deal. The youth are suffering. They are the ones being trafficked to Malaysia; actually reports indicate that some of our youth are languishing in Malaysian prisons.

The government also needs to get rid of poverty and ignorance. As long as these two continue to exist, child sacrifice and trafficking will also continue. Illiterates are the ones who embrace witchcraft mostly, though these days even those who have gone through university resort to such deception. In 1968, while launching the Common Man’s Charter, Dr Milton Obote said: “We need to make the law to guide the unguided and make a law to inform the misinformed.” This is the same thing we should do.