When President Museveni recently signed the Children Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 into law. It marked an end of a remarkable journey that started in 2004 when the Ministry of Gender first put a formal request to the Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC) to amend the Children’s Act. This long awaited Children’s Amendment Act is intended to amend the Children Act, Cap. 59 so as to, among others, enhance protection of a child; provide for the guardianship of children; provide for inter-country adoption; prohibit corporal punishment and to provide a protection measures for emerging forms of child rights abuse in Uganda.
Initially, mistrust and apprehension among major child rights actors, the need to protect vested interests of some individuals, the lack of agency among others, conspired to delay the review process and keep the Bill in the shelves of Parliament for a long time. One case that illustrates the mistrust was in January, 2015, when the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development presented a Child (Amendment) Bill 2014 yet Mr Bernard Atiku, the Ayivu County MP, had also presented a private members’ Bill on child protection bearing the same title. This unprecedented act in the history of Parliament delayed the tabling of the Bill for the first reading.
However, in recent months, all the major stakeholders came together to offer an admirable bipartisan support to the Children Amendment Bill. The ministry of Gender withdrew its Bill and gave support to the private member’s sponsored Bill. First Lady Janet Museveni has been very supportive, Members of Parliament across the political divide and Civil Society Organisations also gave overwhelming support to the Bill. The civil society played a steering role led by Ms Stella Ayo Adong, whose official and personal dedication to have the children’s law in place almost bordered on an obsession. With this diverse support, President Museveni recently signed the Children’s Amendment Bill 2015 into law, thus creating an enabling framework for increased protection of children, especially the vulnerable.
Now, with the law in place, a major victory may have been scored but the real war against child rights violations begins. The new law outlaws corporal punishment in schools, thus reinforcing the earlier ministry of education policy guideline that was ineffective in banning corporal punishment in schools. This is one way of mitigating the rampant violence against children in Uganda.
The law also seeks to regulate inter-country adoption. Inter-country adoption has become a challenge in Uganda. For example, the financial incentives embedded in facilitation of legal guardianship and adoption is making the process unethical with increasing cases of child trafficking that expose these children to countless dangers, including organ trade.
Countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, DRC, Liberia and Benin have in the past suspended inter-country adoption because of the associated dangers until appropriate mechanisms were put in place to mitigate these dangers. The Convention on the Rights of Children Committee itself wrote in its 2008 concluding observations to Uganda raising concerns on the rising numbers of legal guardianship applications.
The Children Amendment Act will also seek to tackle existing gaps in the Children Act, Cap 59, especially on guardianship, harmful customary or cultural practices, harmful or hazardous employment among others. The new law also seeks to address other emerging forms of child rights abuses like child prostitution, among others.
Also notable in the new law is the creation of the National Children’s Authority that will replace the National Council for Children. This is intended to revitalise and strengthen the institutional capacity of government by establishing a relevant organ that can effectively and efficiently respond to the evolving challenges affecting children in Uganda. This authority will, inter alia, advise the government on the formulation of a national policy and child rights programmes and devise modalities of closely monitoring and supervision of these programmes so as to effectively and efficiently address the challenges facing the vulnerable children in Uganda.
As child rights advocates, we are hopeful that the new authority will not merely personify a change of name but will engender a fundamental change in the prevention, protection and promotion of children rights in Uganda.
Mr Oramire is a Child Rights Advocate and Research Fellow with Agency for Transformation.