By Innocent Byaruhanga Oburye
On June 16, Uganda joined the rest of the continent to commemorate the Day of the African child.
This year’s commemoration was low-key compared to previous years, mainly because of Covid19 restrictions on public gatherings.
The Day of the African Child is celebrated every year to take stock of the plight of the African child.
The day was first recognised by the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) in 1991, in remembrance of the school children killed in the Soweto uprising of 1976 in then apartheid South Africa.
This year’s commemoration comes at a time when child protection is even facing more challenges.
The Covid19 restrictions imposed by government meant that all children were sent home for a lengthy period, mostly idle and in some instances loitering in towns and villages.
Most parents have lost their livelihoods and hence they are unable to sufficiently take care of their families.
Too much idle time at home, coupled with loss of livelihoods has exposed children of all ages and sexes to abuse.
Recent reports from Police indicate that at least 3,000 cases of domestic violence have been committed since the lockdown started.
These cases have mostly been committed against women and children.
Even in the case of the former, children often end up as the victims. Domestic violence, in some extreme cases resulting into death of the mother, exposes children to life-long suffering.
The annual Police Crime Report shows that in 2019, 13,613 cases of defilement were committed against children.
The other forms of abuse against children recorded were; domestic violence at 13,693, child neglect at 6,202, child desertion at 2,261 and child torture at 1,302. These cases are expected to rise this year because of the additional challenges posed by Covid19.
Recently, the media reported that in just the two districts of Kaliro and Luuka, at least 60 girls were defiled and impregnated during the lockdown period.
In Kakumiro district, shocking media reports have revealed that parents are selling their daughters into early marriage in exchange for shs5,000.
It is also important to note that over 50% of child abuse cases are never reported to police or any other authorities.
The lockdown has presented new vulnerabilities for the quintessential Ugandan child, and left children exposed to sexual predators who are always prowling for their next prey.
The challenge is that neither the parents nor the law enforcement are doing their work sufficiently. Parents have negated their responsibility of guiding and counselling their children.
Majority of the domestic violence and child abuse cases never make it to court. In most cases, those that get some form of pyrrhic justice are the ones that are resolved through out-of-court settlements.
There are fears that if the time children are staying home is longer, many more children will be abused physically, emotionally and sexually.
It’s absurd to note that the abusers in most cases are known to the victims.
There are also fears that the increased abuse of children coupled with the disintegration of families will lead to an increased influx of children on the streets.
In a 2019 survey conducted by Save Street Children Uganda, it was revealed that violence against children was a leading push factor for children joining the street.
As the lockdown continues, it is imperative for parents to take their responsibilities of caring for and guiding their children, seriously.
It is vital to provide all children, but especially the girl-child, with age-appropriate sexual and reproduction health information to help them make informed decisions concerning their lives.
Community leaders need to be more vigilant to identify and report perpetrators of child abuse to authorities.
The police must fulfill its mandate; they should arrest and charge perpetrators of child abuse in courts of law.
We also need innovative programmes to support and rehabilitate victims of child abuse. The courts of laws should also prioritise domestic violence cases, as a measure of deterrence.
Innocent Byaruhanga Oburye is the founder and executive director of Save Street Children Uganda.