How local leaders, police aid defilement in Bugisu

Teenage mothers and pregnant girls receive assistance from members of Elgon Ebenezer Young Mothers  Organisation in Khakhale Village in Nabweya Sub-county, Mbale District, last week. PHOTO | MICHEAL WONIALA 

What you need to know:

  • Police said parents of victims are offered between Shs1 million and Shs2 Million or livestock such as cows and goats in exchange for dropping the case.

Village leaders and police officers in Bugisu Sub-region have been accused of conniving to assist perpetrators of defilement to evade the long arm of the law.

This publication learnt that the practice fuelled by corruption is the biggest challenge affecting the fight against teenage pregnancies in the sub-region.

According to statistics obtained from police, between the months of January to June 2023, the sub-region recorded 50 aggravated defilement cases. Of these, 171 cases were taken to court, 172 are still under investigation, 11 have so far resulted in convictions whole 65 cases were withdrawn or dismissed for various reasons.

The Elgon regional police spokesperson, Mr Rogers Taitika, said records indicate that at least five defilement cases are reported monthly.

However, he said many of defilement cases are not reported for prosecution. He added that even some of the cases that are reported are withdrawn by parents of the victims.

“The parents of the victims engage in negotiations with the offenders and when they reach an agreement, they withdraw the cases,” he said.

Mr Taitika said parents of victims are offered between Shs1 million and Shs2 Million or livestock such as cows and goats in exchange for dropping the case.

In April, Agnes Nambuya, 16, (not real names) from Bulucheke Sub-county, Bududa District, was defiled by a boda boda rider. The parents of Nambuya reported the suspect and he was detained at Bulucheke Police Station.

However, the village and clan leaders intervened and allegedly with the help of police, the perpetrator was released.

A close relative of the victim, who preferred anonymity, said they opted for private settlement to beat the lengthy legal process, which is involved in such cases.

“We settled it quickly because the culprit agreed to pay the bride price and also marry Nambuya. The resolution restored peace and unity between the two families,” the relative said.

Ms Loyce Nandutu, a resident of Lwasso Sub-county in Mbale City, said she wanted to pursue a case of defilement against her 15-year- old daughter but the perpetrator’s relatives and clan leaders persuaded the husband to drop the case in exchange for Shs1.5 million. The defilement happened in May.

“My husband gave in and I had to accept though I personally wanted him to be arrested and imprisoned,” she said.

Leaders say girls as young as 13 years- old are being sexually abused or impregnated by older men who walk away scot-free after paying money.

“The systems should ensure that perpetrators of defilement pay because the law is clear, there is no consent requirement for defilement because children cannot consent to sexual intercourse,” Pastor Timothy Wamboya said.

Pr Wamboya said the government should also discipline police officers who participate in the practice of killing defilement cases.

Mr Joseph Masaba, a local leader in Bunabutye, Bulambuli District, pointed out that the language used by some police officers when people report cases is intimidating and discourages individuals from pursuing justice.

“There is a need for better cooperation and communication between police and local communities. They should create a conducive environment for parents of victims to report the cases,” he said.

A police detective at Mbale Central Police Station, who preferred anonymity, said there are instances where investigations reach an advanced stage, but clan leaders or other influential individuals intervene, making it difficult to find witnesses willing to testify in court.

“Currently, there are numerous offenders who are serving sentences in prisons across the region for defilement-related offenses, but of course there are many others who are moving scot-free yet they are supposed to be behind bars,” the source said.

The 2022 Annual Crime and Traffic Safety Report shows that eastern region topped in defilement cases in the country. The report indicates that the region recorded 2,712 cases of defilement. For instance, Elgon Sub-region recorded 736 cases, followed by North Kyoga with 713, East Kyoga 665, Kampala Metropolitan (KMP) North 480, Albertine 478, Busoga North 430 and Busoga East with 424 cases.

Mr Yufusu Makweta, a team leader working with Human Rights Defenders in the Elgon region,  said people often prefer handling cases at the village level because they have lost trust in police and other institutions.

“The institutions need to do more to redeem their images because people trust their local leaders then police,” he said.

The Elgon regional spokesperson, Mr Taitika however, said the issue of fighting defilement requires the cooperation of victims, their relatives and law enforcement agencies.

“Some victims seek compensation, while others misrepresent the age of the victims to facilitate negotiations,” he said. 

Mr Patrick Duchu, the Pallisa District chairperson, said many people take defilement, especially of girls aged 16 years and above, lightly because they think the girl is ready for marriage at that age.

Mr Augustine Majanga, the secretary of health and education in Kibuku District,  emphasised that while laws regarding defilement exist, there is often a lack of follow-up to ensure that those assisting in settling defilement cases face the consequences.

Mr Dominic Wazira, the senior probation and social warfare officer in Mbale City, said there is need for increased awareness and a dedicated police sector for handling and following up on defilement cases.