Karamoja women trade sex for gold

Women pan for gold at Nakabati Gold Mining Valley in Moroto District in 2019. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

What you need to know:

  • The women are allegedly being sexually exploited in mining sites. They are cognisant of their rights, but they do not have any alternative to survive or fend for their families, writes Tobbias Jolly Owiny

Women and young girls in Karamoja sub-region have resorted to trading sex in exchange for gold and other precious stones, the Monitor has learnt.

 Whereas it is said to require about four basins of stone dust to pan and generate a single gram of gold, men who access the pits to extract the stone dust demand for sex from women in exchange for each basin filled with the dust.

Ms Sophie Nangiro, the vice chairperson of the Karamoja Miners Association, says the economic status of such women and young girls characterised by severe poverty has made women give in to male advances.

“These women, especially in Moroto and Napak District, are suffering, especially those doing gold mining. The women are not allowed to go into the pits and the men who go in there ask these women for sex for them to get the soil to pan and sell,’’ she says.

According to her, while the women are cognisant of the rights being violated in such trades, they do not have any alternative to survive or fend for their families.

“They are too poor to provide for their families, all they care about is getting some money to feed their children each day,” she adds.

This newspaper has learnt that the sex trade is rampant in Nakabati (gold) Valley in Rupa Sub-county, some 38km outside Moroto Municipality.  The area covers an isolated gold mining village bordering the Turkana area and the Tepeth community.

The scrappy valley, sitting among the ranges of Mt Moroto, provides the most crucial income source not only to the people in Rupa Sub-county, but also other districts neighbouring Moroto and is also home to approximately 3,500 artisanal miners, according to records at Rupa Sub-county headquarters.


In June, the Uganda Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (UGEITI) published a report on the status of small-scale mining in Uganda in which it highlighted a chain of hurdles that will continue to curtail the impoverished mining communities across the country.

“There is the widespread use of inefficient and labour-intensive mining methods leading to low economic returns, environmental degradation, accidents, and other occupational health and safety risks,” the report says in part.

While HIV/Aids continues to scourge the artisanal mining communities, the report further laid bare that small-scale miners were being exploited by middlemen trading the minerals.

It also established that for women engaged in limestone quarrying, the truck drivers who are barred from buying marble stones from small-scale producers force women to have sex with them before their stones are bought.

“Even when the women have aggregated their stones, the truckers who buy the stones ask them for sex. You can take two weeks before your heap of stones is loaded and bought,” Ms Nangiro says.

Ms Pamela Angwec, the executive director of Gulu Women Economic Empowerment and Globalisation (GWED-G), says gender-based violence within Karamoja Sub-region needs urgent government intervention.

“It is an area where the government needs to act swiftly and deal with, it is so unfortunate that the women working in Karamoja are being sexually-molested and abused,’’ she says.

“We have a lot of gender-based violence in Karamoja because the women who are originally breadwinners are held up in a situation of vulnerability due to poverty. They struggle to raise food for their families and end up being beaten by their men or children once they fail to do to,” she adds.

This publication established that the mining and quarrying sector accounted for Shs2.626 trillion in the FY2020/2021, which represents 1.8 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) Annual Labour Force Survey (ALFS) for 2021, while there were 20.4 million people employed formally in Uganda, only 1,515 were employed in the oil and gas and mining sectors, representing 0.01 percent of total employment in the FY2020/2021.

The UGEITI places the value of revenue realised by the government from the extractive sector at Shs241.35 billion, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total domestic revenues in the FY2020/2021.

Mr Sisto Lokiru, the GISO of Tapac Sub-county in Moroto, says child labour is a widespread problem in the gold mining village,  adding that HIV infection are now rampant in the area.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is a largely informal economic sector that includes workers who use rudimentary tools to extract minerals from the earth. 


Last week, the association leaders and other civil society actors, met the State Minister for Northern Uganda, Ms Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, in Gulu City. 

During the engagement, the leaders explained that besides the sex trade dilemma facing Karamoja women, most of the land in the Moroto had been taken over by big mining companies extracting marble.

The companies are accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of deprived communities.

“Three-quarters of our land in the sub-county that I come from has been taken up by the companies doing mining activities.  Women cannot collect firewood, they don’t have the herbs (medicines) and fruits yet in Karamoja, we value our herbal medicines,” Ms Nangiro says.

She adds that they have held periodic negotiations with the mining companies in vain to offer free medical services as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Ms Angwec says civil society actors “are pushing for the Sexual Offences Bill to be passed. Once passed, it will help us to respond to such problems holistically.”

In response, Ms Kwiyucwiny called upon the leaders to step up their efforts in advocating for the economic empowerment of marginalised women.

“The stories we have heard of Karamoja are very devastating. I am asking myself, you and your friends, what are you doing? I am looking at you the taskforce teams, go to the CAOs, district leaders and demand action from the magistrates there, some of these issues require swift action,” she says.

To Mr Simon Longoli of Karamoja Development Forum, the situation has been worsened by the low institutional capacity of Karimojong civil society in managing land and natural resources conflicts.

“Ideally, this support should include creating opportunities for the local communities, individuals and community groups to be able to strengthen their understanding of these issues. By doing this, a viable structure to manage negotiation, bargain, handle complaints and manage revenues and benefits will be attained,’’ Mr Longoli says.

Mining law

On 14 October 2022, the government signed into law the Mining and Minerals Act 2022 to regulate the industry and distribute benefits from mining activities. 

The act introduces the use of Community Development Agreements to enhance local community development and welfare while empowering communities to negotiate for more sustainable and beneficial arrangements. 

From the current illegal mining in Mubende, Buhweju, Busia, Namayingo, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Kaabong, Abim, and Moroto districts, it is estimated that about 200kgs of gold equivalent to $8 million (current price of $40,000 per Kg), is being illegally mined per month (Baseline Assessment of Development Minerals in Uganda, 2018) compared to Non-Tax revenue (NTR) of $3.2 million collected annually.

Govt speaks out

The director of communication and public affairs at Parliament, Mr Chris Obore, said he was yet to establish the fate of the Sexual Offences Bill, which seeks to match Uganda’s laws with changes in the nature of sex crimes today.

“I need to cross-check because when the President bounces a Bill, there are procedures that are taken, for example, the Speaker pushes it back to the relevant committee to scrutinise the gaps and amend and that is what I am yet to ascertain,” Mr Obore said.

In August 2021, President Museveni refused to sign the Sexual Offences Bill, 2019, into law, calling many of its sections redundant since they were already provided for in other laws.

He received the Bill, which had been tabled by Ms Monica Amoding (former Kumi Woman MP), after Parliament had passed it in May 2021.

In May, the Parliament made the second attempt through a Private  Member’s Bill, to introduce a broader law that will address the evolving nature of sex crimes and the increase in cases of sexual violence.

The Bill is a resubmission of the Sexual Offences Bill, 2019, which was read for the first time on November 24, 2019. That effort, however, collapsed when the term of the 10th Parliament ran out.

Mr Franc Mugabi, the Gender ministry’s spokesman, declined to comment on the matter stating that it was only the Commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs at the ministry, Ms Angela Nakafero, who was best placed to discuss the subject.

“For that matter, it is the commissioner, Ms Nakafeero, who is best placed to speak about it. It is also unfortunate that she is out of the country at the moment,” Mr Mugabi said. 

On Monday, Ms Nakafero declined to comment on the matter stating that she lacked evidence and that the ministry had limited information regarding the challenges Karamoja women face in mining sites.

“I lack evidence on what happens in the mining areas, I wouldn’t want to comment on that without evidence because I would first need to know how many women have been subjected to violence as they do the mining and some other forms of abuse,” she said.

“We have not yet done any research regarding that matter, so I would not comment authoritatively. Our work has mainly been around gender-based violence (GBV),’’ she said.