Strange case of defilement, human trafficking puts police in spotlight

Monday June 22 2020
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Activists march alongside police against abuse of children and women in Kampala on June 2017. PHOTO | RACHEL MABALA

At the time Sophia was defiled, the 14-year-old lived with her mother, Zura Mukamana, in Makindye-Sabagabo, Wakiso District. Mukamana separated from Mohammad Kizito Nsubuga when their daughter was three years old.

To supplement the family’s meagre income, Mukamana did odd jobs such as making bricks, washing neighbour’s clothes and cleaning the mosque in Kibuye.
Then last month, disaster struck. A video in which Sophia accused her mother of selling her to two men went viral on cyberspace, capturing public imagination.

In the video, recorded by Swaleh Semakula, the defence secretary of the local council, Sophia accuses Mukamana of selling her to their neighbour, Fred Bulega, a 41-year-old fishmonger, and John Byamukama, an 18-year-old shoemaker.

Both Bulega and Byamukama are currently on remand at Kitalya prison. Sophia is now six months pregnant.

“I was sent out at night. My mother told me to go and sleep with that old man. I slept with him on the same bed, but I did not know what was going on. At night, he used me by force,” Sophia revealed in an earlier interview with NTV.

However, a visit to the Makindye neighbourhood reveals a different story. There are five rooms on the house Mukamana rented. Behind this house, there are about 10 one-room units.

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Neighbour speaks out
Ms Damalie Bbulya rents the room between Mukamana’s and Bulega’s house. Ms Bbulya often leaves for work in Ggangu at 5am and returns home at 10am to prepare breakfast for her children.

Ms Bbulya says since the December holiday, whenever she returned home, she noticed something strange.
“Sophia was in a sexual relationship with the 18-year-old shoemaker, who lived behind us. I counselled her and told her to leave the boy because he would give her HIV and destroy her future yet she claimed she loved going to school. I found her three times, and I even pinched her ears to make her listen to me,” she says.
Ms Bbulya says Sophia adopted tactics to avoid detection. “She would take a small jerrycan to the bathroom under the pretext of going for a bath. But she would leave the jerrycan in the bathroom and go to Byamukama’s room. All the while, her mother thought she was bathing. Mukamana was very strict. She always told Sophia to go to sleep at 7pm.”
Another neighbour, Ms Joan Nakiboneka, says Mukamana asked her to counsel the girl because she was becoming unruly.

“I told Sophia to consider how far her poor mother had brought her, and concentrate on her studies. I told her that if she studied, she would get a job and even look after her mother in her old age. Unfortunately, Sophia had increasingly become very rude to her mother. Her mother feared her, and everyday, she would tell me that the girl’s behaviour was becoming worse,” she says.
In March, when Mukamana realised that her daughter was pregnant, she reported the case to the village chairperson.
In an earlier interview at Makindye Chief Magistrate’s Court, Mukamana said Sophia refused to talk while at the local council office, but when the chairperson threatened her, she opened up.
“Sophia took the chairman out of the office, saying she did not want to reveal the secret in my presence. She confessed that John Byamukama was responsible for her pregnancy. I told the chairman that that boy was playing with me because I had paid my hard-earned money, Shs1.4 million, to pay for Sophia’s school fees for a year,” Mukamana said.
Nakiboneka, who was present during the meeting with the local council, says Byamukama confessed that he had impregnated the 14-year-old. “When he was asked if he had used the girl, he admitted to it,” she says.

However, being a congested neighbourhood, children who live around say there were other boys involved in the abuse.

They allege that Sophia was also in a relationship with a young man only identified as Ashavin, and the two used to meet in an empty room behind the house.

The children allege that Aisha, a 17-year-old girl, always stood guard at the door when the two had their liaisons.

Whereas police are probing the offences of defilement and human trafficking, it is now emerging that detectives neglected to interview Mukamana’s neighbours, who could be key witnesses on the prosecution’s side.
Sophia accuses her mother of trying to poison her to allegedly conceal her role in trafficking her to men to sleep with her.

However, the neighbours say the police never searched Mukamana’s house to establish the cogency of the poison allegations.

Police investigations
Mr Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson, says the force has already concluded its investigations.
“We took the mother and the other man (Bulega) to court. We are now only waiting for the court to decide if they are guilty or not,” he says.
Both the neighbours and Sophia’s former husband agree that Mukamana grappled with a volatile temperament and could have been harsh towards her daughter, which drove her (Sophia) to rebel.
“Maybe that woman should have been locked up a long time ago. She once hit Sophia with a brick on the face, and she still carries a scar under her mouth. However, every time our various landlords called the police, I felt pity and advised my wife to run away. She has over five references with different police stations for child abuse,” Ms Nakiboneka says.
She also testifies about Mukamana’s temper.

“One minute you may be laughing with her, but the next she will be abusing you and calling you over something you said. She could change within the blink of an eye. But many single mothers are like that because of the hardships they face in raising their children. I remember when she discovered that her daughter was pregnant, and I suggested finding a solution, she abused me,” she says.

Human trafficking allegations
With her mother exhibiting a fit of rage because of the pregnancy, Sophia ran away from home, and went to live with her father, Nsubuga, in Ggangu. When she emerged three weeks later, she accused her mother of trafficking her.

“Sophia told me that the man her mother had arrested (Byabakama) was not the one responsible for the pregnancy. She said it was an old man who used to bring them fish every day. When I went to the police station (Kakajjo) I was determined to have the old man arrested because my daughter was sure he was the one,” he says.

This begs the question: if Sophia had already declared Byamukama as the man responsible for her pregnancy and the boy confessed, why would she turn around and accuse Bulega, an old man?
Bulega’s neighbours allege that he is impotent. Ms Bbulya says he has a swelling in his stomach and she has never seen him bringing a woman or a girl into his room. He is not married, and neither does he have children.
“He was a very lonely man. When the water levels in Lake Victoria began rising, he stopped going to the shores to fish. He did not have food, whenever I prepared food for my children, I would give him some,” she says.

Ms Annet Nakalema, another neighbour, says: “If Sophia was her (Mukamana) business, why would she bother to look for money to take her to a boarding school? If you have a business, you would want to monitor it daily. Why did Mukamana not leave her daughter in a day school, because there, Sophia would go to school during the day, and in the evening come home to sleep with the men her mother is alleged to have sold her to,” she says.

Mr Nsubuga alleges that these women, and his former wife, are friends because they pay allegiance to the same witchdoctor. Police did not interest itself in the strained relationship between these two. Mukamana is now on remand at Kigo prison.
Mukamana’s neighbours have petitioned Mr Nicholas Opiyo, a lawyer and human rights activist, to take an interest in the case.
Mr Opiyo believes the police officers did not put to test the cogency of the evidence to implicate Sophia’s mother.
“There was a knee-jerk reaction following reports in the local media. The police went for the narrative created by the press. For instance, two people have been charged for the same crime – defiling the same girl. It is baffling why the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) would sanction charges against two individuals alleged to have committed the same crime,” he says.

Mr Opiyo says the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Department is under pressure to prove a stellar performance.

“For a very long time, there have been concerns about their appearance to be doing something at the expense of rigour. They appear so vindictive as opposed to pursuing justice and the sole intention appears to be to lock up people to demonstrate that that unit is working, even in cases where there is no evidence,” he says.
Mr Opiyo adds that the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Department participates in cases without evaluating where they will add any value.

“Some of their actions have led to unfortunate incidents such as the death of the German national (Bernhard Glanser Berry, a suspected paedophile) in prison. This department refused to release him on bail for five years until he died in prison from cancer,” Mr Opiyo says.
Mukamana’s first point of redress was the area local council office, but Opiyo says cases of defilement are beyond the jurisdiction of local councils.

He says the local council maybe responsible for the current mess because they chose a particular narrative regardless of the self-confession of Byamukama.

“In doing what they did, they have now exposed the young girl to adverse media coverage and taken away her privacy. They have ruined her future. Nobody is going to look at this girl in the future in the same way; she is soiled by this story. It is going to take a long time to build her reputation again,” he says.

A DNA test when the baby is born will provide a vital piece of evidence for the prosecution side.

However, whereas the heaps of files may conceal the secrets of this case, there is the glaring truth; that a vulnerable 14-year-old girl, who was defiled is pregnant; a dark underbelly afflicting the Ugandan society.

Sophia, in an earlier interview, says she wants to move to her grandmother’s home in Butambala, Mpigi District. She says her father also needs help and fears for his erratic behaviour.

Mr Nsubuga does not know where his daughter is. Sophia was taken away by the probation officer and officials from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

The father says whenever he calls the probation officer and the district police commander in charge of Kibuye Police Station, he does not receive clear responses.

Mr Nsubuga says for the last few days, none of the two are picking his calls.
Although three suspects have been charged and remanded, there are fears that there might be a miscarriage of justice if detectives bungle the investigation.

Defilement cases
Police report
According to the 2019 Uganda Police Annual Crime report, 13,613 defilement cases were reported in 2019. By the end of last year, 5,732 cases were taken to court, out of which 1,021 cases secured convictions, 69 cases were acquitted, 474 cases were dismissed and 4,168 cases were still pending in court. A total of 4,897 cases were still under investigations.

The report adds that 30 incidents of internal trafficking in persons were registered in 2019, compared to 16 in 2018.

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