Uganda’s 30-year journey in fighting for children’s rights

Saturday November 23 2019

Arrest. Police arrest a child who was found

Arrest. Police arrest a child who was found loitering on the streets of Masaka Town last year. Courtesy photos 

By Esther Oluka

Anitah Prossy Namuwoya, a student at Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), did not mince her words during the media roundtable held at the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) head offices in Kampala on November 20.
The 17-year-old openly discussed the challenges children face in the country today.
“Parents are giving away their children for sacrifice with the aim of getting money. There are also those subjecting their children to hard labour, for example, sending them to the street to sell oranges or to go and work in bars,” Namuwoya stated.

“This is work we are not supposed to be doing,” she added.
Namuwoya also hinted on parents who are marrying off their daughters supposed to be in school.
“I feel bad when my friends are being married off, yet for me, I am still studying,” she said.

For such reasons, Namuwoya said she was worried of the future of today’s generation of children.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a widely ratified human rights treaty in history that is helping transform children’s rights.
This convention defines any human being below the age of 18 years as a child. However, one wonders, how Uganda is fairing in implementing children’s rights?

Uganda’s performance
Thirty years on, Dr Doreen Mulenga, the Unicef representative to Uganda, acknowledges that this Child Convention has indeed been the most ratified treaty and has inspired governments to actually change laws and policies.
“Now we see more investments in education and health, making sure that our children survive, ensuring that there are systems in place that will protect them from harm,” she said during the media roundtable.
Dr Mulenga added that at least more children have been given a platform to voice their issues and life breakthroughs and at the same time, they have been able to make suggestions about things they need in their lives.

“This is an important milestone for us as a country because we are taking stock of the progress that has been made particularly in Uganda, of the remaining challenges because the Uganda of 30 years ago is very different from the one of today. We need to look at the new dimensions that are impacting children and commit ourselves towards addressing these emerging issues,” she added.
Meanwhile, Ms Ruth Ssekindi, the director of Monitoring and Inspection at the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), said at 30 years, Uganda as a country needed to take stock of the levels of rights that children have.

“There are a number of children who have been left behind. They are traveling miles on end and yet they cannot access the right to education,” she stated.
“Then, there is still infant mortality despite the State making a number of interventions for children to ensure they have access to health services. The maternal mortality rate is also still high,” she added.
At the end of her presentation, Ssekindi emphasised that Uganda has a mandate to treat children with dignity, respect their rights and involve them in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Studying. Education is a fundamental right for
Studying. Education is a fundamental right for every child.


How to better the lives of children
Moving forward, Namuwoya asked government to give children more opportunities to voice their concerns so that it is aware of the challenges children deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Similarly, Ms Brechtje Van Lith, the country director for Save the Children, said although Uganda has good policies aimed at fighting for children’s rights, the country is still grappling with challenges at the same time.

“Uganda is still lagging behind in resourcing and implementation,” she noted during her presentation.
For this reason, Lith suggested that policy makers continue to work on attitudes and practices of families, parents and communities.
However, she emphasised the need to listen to children and ensure they are able to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
Lith also emphasised the need to end all forms of violence against children, including physical, emotional and sexual.

The 2018 Uganda violence against children survey report says, one in three adults have experienced at least two forms of violence of either sexual, physical or emotional nature during their childhood.
And in a move to curb down of violence against children, the Ministry of Education and Sports came up with the national strategic plan on violence against children in schools for the years 2015 to 2020.
Part of the plan includes promoting community and district level dialogues around the abandonment of harmful practices such as child marriages, educating the public on children’s rights, equipping schools with facilities and resources to support the prevention of violence against children, among others.

Why Uganda is Taking stock
In 1989, leaders from all over the world came together and adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which became a widely ratified human rights treaty and has helped transform children’s lives.
It is now 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention, a widely ratified human rights treaty, has inspired governments, including Uganda, to change laws and policies in favour of children.

The treaty establishes that children have access to essential services, including food, education and healthcare, are protected against harm, cared for and loved, are given room to develop their abilities and talents, among other entitlements.
Regardless of the emphasis constantly made to protect and respect children’s rights, it has not entirely been a smooth implementation plan.

This story was published in collaboration with Unicef