What you need to know:
Some on the perpetrator list are those meant to protect the girl child such as teachers and law enforcers
During the first COVID-19 induced lockdown, Resty Nakimbugwe who stayed in Mbarara with her mother moved to Kyazanga to help her heavily pregnant sister. However, along the way, her estranged father also asked that she goes to his place to check on him as he was not well. Here, she met a stepmother who had no liking for her and accused her of several misdemeanours, a charade she continued until Nakimbugwe got punished. This daily bread of punishment did not go down well with the girl who soon chose to run away, braving a long trek to Kyazanga that she was only saved from by a stranger.
With Shs3,000 at hand, she managed to get to her aunt’s place where she stayed for a week before being asked to bring drinking water for a stranger. As she was leaving, she heard her cousin, with whom she stayed as well say to the man, “I hope you have seen her. That is the girl!”
Two months later, he brought for her a dress and shoes saying, “Thank you for all you do for us here.” The joy was cut short by intel from a girl in the neighbourhood who asked her if she knew she was getting married. Nakimbugwe was taken aback because she always thought her cousin had the best in mind for her.
Nonetheless, it brought back to mind the time he asked her if she still wanted to return to her father to which she vehemently refused. Connecting the dots, Nakimbugwe realised that he asked to ascertain her availability, and later learned that the deal was done and Friday was the day to go to her new home. Certain that marriage was not her desire, Nakimbugwe purposed to walk to Mbarara, but the plan was foiled when her cousin found her washing clothes in the rain.
“Are you planning to go somewhere?” On narrating her plan, he, without remorse, said she had to reimburse the money (Shs150,000) spent on her since her arrival, including that which bought the gifts as all had been given by her intended husband. With no escape route, her cousin told her to pack and go to her new home.
“Even if you stay there for just one day,” he said, “You will have repaid the debt.” Her aunt was also in on the plan.
Reaching the man’s place, whom she learned was a fisherman, Nakimbugwe discovered he had children older than her. On her first night, he locked her up in the house and went to ply his trade. Desperate to get help, she managed to get a phone and share her ordeal with her mother. With no money at that time, she promised her help by Wednesday. That would be a week in the man’s house at whose sight she always nauseated yet she had no choice but render sexual pleasure to her disgust.
However, the drama was still unfolding as the man said he needed payment of Shs290,000 her cousin had taken from him. Feeling trapped, on the fourth day, Nakimbugwe ran away, boarding a taxi to Mbarara and thankfully, met her younger brother who paid the fare. Unbeknownst to her, she was pregnant, something that the lack of periods did not seem to signal to her. Thinking she was ill, Nakimbugwe visited a hospital to get a remedy for the vomiting and general malaise. The results gave her chills, worsened by the memory of her mother’s stern warning – whoever gets pregnant without getting married should not return here. Having earlier assured her that she was not pregnant yet nowhere else to go, the only card was to lie she had fever. However, Nakimbugwe’s cover was blown when another aunt saw her vomiting. Hoping to find help from her sister, she shared her secret which later became public knowledge and the genesis of ridicule as well as a reminder that there was no room for her. Adding salt to injury, was when Nakimbugwe’s mother called her nephew, who only insulted the girl for running away from a well-meaning man. The duo (cousin and purported husband) then made arrangements to visit on Friday to the disgust of the girl who by then (December) should have been anticipating the joy of Christmas. Scared that she would be forced to go with the man, Nakimbugwe ran to her grandmother. On the other hand, the mother had hoped to use this time to arrest the man but because she did not share her plans, all failed as the girl was out of sight which angered the mother. He later returned (a month later) but on eavesdropping the plan of his arrest, excused himself under the disguise of curfew. Even though Nakimbugwe had not run away this time, the failed plan was heaped on her. In May, a girl next door advised her to procure an abortion.
The prescription was a drop of a concoction but tired with life, Nakimbugwe took an overdose. Unfortunately, it did not work. Then a glimmer of hope shined her way when a cloth vender shared about an organisation that takes care of girls with teenage pregnancies. That was followed by a visit to the four-month-pregnant girl by Ms Zam Nakalema and Ms Eva Namusisi, officials from the organisation. Although uninterested in the start, a promise to help in delivery and avail her with clothes for her unborn baby got Nakimbugwe to agree to visit their offices the following week. With Shs10,000 from her savings, she and her mother visited the Remnant Generation offices in Lyantonde. On reaching, she was taken to the hospital for check-up and the transport was also refunded. It was then that Nakimbugwe’s mother started paying attention to her amid endless ridicule from her sisters.
“As the delivery date drew closer, I was asked to go to the girls’ shelter for closer proximity with the health facilities. With Shs50, 000 saved up for delivery, I arrived in Lyantonde on August 9,” Nakimbugwe shares.
A lot of uncertainty clouded the delivery process and after several days of on and off labour pains, she was taken to hospital but later wheeled to the theatre and delivered of a boy on August 18. However, complications arose with the baby who later passed on leaving her in pain and emptiness. It was worsened by comments from the ‘husband’ who said, “Good riddance” as well as a scar gone septic in between her journey to bid her son farewell. Returning to hospital, misery became her companion as she learned he had had heart problems. Discharged back to the shelter, she started her recuperation journey and in September, was given the opportunity to learn salon work. However, her mental health was wanting, plagued with many thoughts. She has since improved and is steadily learning salon work.
Research by The Remnant Generation showed that 95 per cent of sexually abused children are abused by known people and trusted caregivers.
“One in every four girls and one in every six boys is a victim of sexual abuse by someone they know and trust. Even scarier is that incest or intra-familial abuse accounts for about one-third of all child sexual abuse cases,” Ms Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje, CEO of The Remnant Generation shares. Additionally, the annual crime police report of 2020 indicated that 14,230 girls were defiled in Uganda in 2020, which indicated a 3.8 per cent increase from the 13,613 reported in 2019. Of the 14,230, at least 9,954 victims were between 15 and 17 years whereas 2,986 were between nine and 14 years and 1,280 were below eight years. The report also indicated that 301 children were defiled by HIV positive suspects whereas 120 children were defiled by their own biological parents.
Ms Nakabiri explains that child sexual abuse (child sexual molestation), is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that they do not fully comprehend or for which the child is not developmentally prepared thus cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.
“It includes fondling of a child’s genitalia, coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity, exposing a child to pornography, and the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices,” she says.
Ms Vivian Kityo, founder of Wakisa Ministries has been in the trenches of crisis pregnancy work for more than 25 years. She first witnessed this plight in the 70s as a nurse dealing with a girl battling with septicaemia after an abortion. Aware that the unborn baby also suffers immense rejection, something they feel even when in the womb, owing to the stress, dejection and rejection that the girl suffers, Ms Kityo soldiers on.
Since 2004, the ministry has taken care of 1,800 girls and still counting. With COVID-19, the lid was taken off a vice that was once swept under the carpet as so many girls are getting pregnant. This put a limelight on the fact that parents need not leave the role of child-raising to schools.
“It is said that school is their safe haven seeing that most perpetrators are within the homestead, save for some unprofessional teachers. That is because they are kept busy, they are in bigger groups with a routine and there is some kind of discipline. On the other hand, while at home, the males see them differently, more so when redundant. That was the case during lockdown yet these males needed to take out their unspent energy so they either beat their wives or sexually abused their daughters who are dead scared of them. In such instances, parents need to do more to keep children safe,” she shares.
It was indeed a blessing for Wakisa that they moved to Wakiso in 2020 because previously, they were only able to take on 30 girls and ensured that two weeks after delivery, they were resettled in families owing to limited space. In the new premises, they can take on 50 girls at a time because it is spacious. With the pregnancy and abuse influx, Ms Kityo says the phone calls are many, and the waiting list is growing with every passing day.
Before choosing to get deeply involved in Lyantonde, The Remnant Generation had since 2016 remotely offered services based on cases referred to them by the probation officer. “However, the need got quite overwhelming and we also saw it unwise to remove the girls from their community for in-house help at the only shelter then (in Busega) as that would require resettlement on returning. There was also need to establish the cause of case influx in order to find ways to rectify the problem through various programmes; sensitisation and skilling to help deal with the vices,” Mr David Muyanja, the child protection officer in the organisation shares.
It was then (in 2020) that an office was opened with Mr Muyanja as the head of the Lyantonde field office as well as team leader. Later, in August 2021 they also opened the Lyantonde Princess Shelter starting with one girl.
Ms Scovia Nalubega, the shelter caretaker is thankful that the mission of the home is being recognised signalled by an influx to 10 girls. “The growth in number means that parents have come to understand that when faced with such issues; child abuse, and teenage pregnancies, they have someone to bear the burden with them.”
In 2020 (during the first lockdown), Mr Muyanja says they got 56 cases. “However, these were the very few that come to their notice because many go unreported owing to factors such as failure to detain suspects which makes others that face a similar predicament hold back. It is also a tiring long journey that is time and resource robbing before justice is awarded as the court process may drag on for years.
The other thing is that while there is a court in Lyantonde, the resident magistrate does not have the jurisdiction to handle such cases (classified as criminal in nature), only appearing before him for mention and the suspect is remanded. The chief magistrate meant to handle these cases sits in Masaka which is also a distance away,” Mr Muyanja shares.
As of December 10 2021, the office had received 80 defilement cases and if it is only one person to preside over them, backlog is eminent. Moreover, COVID lockdown meant that court was not sitting as regularly as before.
Corruption, according to Mr Muyanja, also plays a role as some parents say some officers ask for money in exchange for justice for their girls.
“That makes the process quite hard seeing that many do not have the money.”
In others cases, poverty makes the search for justice impossible because before a case can proceed some medical examinations must be done yet parents do not have money to do so.
“With that, suspects are released back to the community which grips them with fear. That way, the search for justice is abandoned,” he says.
Getting these cases
As per government policy, an NGO does not work in isolation so The Remnant Generation has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the district signed in 2019. Currently, Andrew Timothy Kamugasa, the Senior Probation officer, Lyantonde is the supervisor conducting onsite supervision on behalf of the district.
“Previously, we had so many cases of defilement, child marriages, and teenage pregnancies with no person focussed on helping them. The emergence of The Remnant Generation helps in reducing the burden as they provide maternity services and counselling to these girls. The procedure of picking the girl they will take on is based on the vulnerability, say one in an abusive environment and the perpetrator is a close relative. After referral forms have been filled in, with the help of the district and police, the girl is removed from that environment to the shelter,” he shares. Others are girls that head households but get abused by those camouflaging to render help. These are not only empowered by the counselling but also learn how to act should such an incident try to reoccur.
The narrative is not different for Wakisa who have over the years worked with Police, churches, NGOs, families, and probation officers to get abused girls. Jane Katusiime, a counsellor at the centre says they also get girls from mothers owing to circumstances such as the father making an ultimatum that either the girl leaves or both mother and girl leave. “Seeing that there are other children to take care of, the mother decides to bring her to Wakisa. That said, we are also under VIVA network of organisations which always refers children to us. In our former home, walk-ins were also regular and counselling, rather than admission, was given because certain protocols must be followed such as alerting the probation officer and getting care court orders to avoid liabilities. That said, even when in Wakiso, people still come because there is a need to be met,” Katusiime says.
Mr Muyanja says they also have a programme – The adolescent power programme, running in Ryakajura sub-county as it one of those with the highest Gender-based Violence (GBV) case rate.
“As such, we leave our contacts with the various leaders and the community and these also refer cases to us. However, there are also walk-ins by girls that have been hurt (defiled or raped) while alumni also refer fellow teenagers,” he shares.
Precursors to teenage pregnancies and abuse
Poverty is the main issue causing depravation driving a girl to give in to the advances of a man who has given her say, sanitary pads, and vaseline that the parents have failed to give her. It is the same that causes parents to enrol their children in far-off schools simply because the rates and requirements may be lower than those nearby. “However, it is in the long journeys that they find the predators who offer them food having studied without food followed by the sexual advances,” Ms Nalubega says.
She adds that most of the girls lack parental guidance and never get a chance to share with them their challenges. “Owing to that, many get in such predicaments as they have low self-esteem, cannot defend themselves, and do not know their value. Therefore, parents need to create good communication channels with their children coupled with raising them with godly values. That way, they are better equipped,” Ms Nalubega shares.
However, should a child get pregnant, Ms Nalubega says parents need to calm down aware that they make mistakes thus handling them in the same manner as when she delays when getting water from the well. “That is coupled with nurturing her in an encouraging manner enabling her to walk this journey with more ease. With this, repeating the habit will be unheard of.”
Some on the perpetrator list are those meant to protect the girl child such as teachers and law enforcers. In such instances, government ought to help societies to incarcerate the perpetrators as these use the authority of their office to duel power over them. “When this is done, a child will not be intimidated in giving in because she feels powerless and under duress,” she adds.
Ms Nalubega adds that community leaders need to continually address the issues facing our children. Moreover, while boys may not suffer greatly, they must also be catered to and no discrimination should be made in this fight.
Issues faced by the girls
Mrs Nakabiri says in her work, she comes across gross cases. For example, they are currently dealing with a 14-year-old Primary 7 leaver defiled by a man that normally buys bananas from her mother’s stall. “He picked a bunch of bananas and asked the girl to follow him to get the money. However, he had other plans; leading the girl to a nearby garden and defiling her; her neck had finger marks showing the struggle that had ensued. Then there was a 10-year-old who had been abused and badly raptured by his father’s close friend. To say that these little girls have suffered trauma would be an understatement,” she intimates.
However, despite all that trauma, these girls, according to Katusiime, suffer rejection from parents as well as society seeing that they are children carrying children. “They look at having got pregnant as shame.”
There is also uncertainty of their future because most have been getting sponsorship from various organisations. “When they get pregnant, they are dropped off the list and their fathers want nothing to do with them. That certainly worries the girls,” Katusiime says.
She adds that being simply children, many also have fear of giving birth.
Rehabilitating the girls
While in these centers, the girls receive a holistic package where counselling is part to help them take charge of their emotions, alongside antenatal care. In Wakisa, Katusiime says they also counsel the parents back home in order to accept the girls again.
With Remnant Generation, they help these girls in two categories; community-based care programme and those that are in the shelter (those that are very vulnerable such as those that suffer incest, or are about to undergo an abortion). Mr Muyanja says a lot goes on when these come under their care because, first of all, they are physically and mentally damaged. “While some may not get pregnant, they have suffered sexual abuse from as early as two years. Therefore, we take them through a health programme, in partnership with Lyantonde Bulamu Medical Centre, where they receive counselling, among other things. Those at the shelter also undergo a skilling programme because we desire to transform their mindset enabling them sustain themselves and the baby. The skills include liquid soap making, craft making, and salon work. We are yet to unveil the whole programme here, tailoring them to what suits the community they dwell in. While still with us, they make products which we help them sell. That said, some have returned to school although a big number of them, after giving birth, do not want to return to formal education. However, we are trying to encourage them that giving birth is not the end of the world,” Mr Muyanja shares.
At times, family is not willing to take back these girls so Wakisa works with the probation officer to settle them in organisations as the ministry looks for a way forward. “However, in cases where the perpetrators are in the home, even when they have been imprisoned, we never take the girls back. Rather, we resettle them into other families, because they are ostracised for being the reason the bread winner is in jail. In some cases, we find widows who are willing to take them on until we hear of a relative that opens their arms. However, when no one turns up, we look for Christian families that can take them on which is not always easy. In case of failure, Wakisa can now stay with them as long as possible,” Mrs Kityo shares.
Involving the males
Mr Muyanja says there is no success in this fight without involving the males inasmuch as the girl child is more vulnerable and The Remnant Generation does so through school outreaches. “These are non-discriminatory entailing counselling and career guidance although they were curtailed by COVID19. In the communities, we work with church leaders, the police and other organisations dealing with children and take the same message,” he says.
They also have a programme, Fathers Arise, where men are involved and turned into ambassadors to show that they can do better than they are doing now. “That is because oftentimes, when we call for meetings, it is females that come in throngs. However, in this initiative, we deal with men to cause change in the communities.”
Inasmuch as there has been a spike in the teenage pregnancies during school closure, Mr Muyanja and his team soldier on because they desire to see the girl child voice her pain and challenges as that speaks volumes to various stakeholders. “As such, we desire that her voice is amplified for they tell the story better than the implementers. We desire that she tells what she has suffered and the fact that she desires it not.”
They also want parents and leaders ably speaking for themselves as ambassadors of change as these have been so silent on these vices. “Most organisations dealing with these issues do not come from the affected communities. However, it is the parents who know the plight of their children and when empowered can better speak about it. The leaders will also ably fight for their communities, even overpowering perpetrators that feel untouchable.”
Mrs Kityo’s prayer that more crisis pregnancy centres will open countrywide because girls are still being abused and it is made worse by the patriarchal society we live in. “Women, and well-wishers of girls need to open their hearts and homes to offer counselling to the affected ones.”
She also hopes parents will learn to forgive their girls and keep them through the pregnancy. “It seems that the culture is too strong as it is still a social stigma to keep a pregnant girl under the same roof with her parents. While they have done wrong, judging and chastising them will not help.”
Mrs Kityo would also love to see the ministry grow into a one-stop centre with a dormitory, a hospital rendering all the services free of charge, and a vocational skill centre where they can learn something to eventually support themselves.