Quite often, children are abused and violated in various forms. However, many don’t know where to find remedies; even those that do, they fail to utilize the help. In our series focusing on violence against children (VAC), JUSTUS LYATUU explores how children get frustrated in the process of looking for justice.
After several persuasions, Ruth (not real name) finally agrees to talk to me; not that I am a stranger, but the fear of beatings if her caretaker grandfather knew that she had talked to someone on her fate.
In hushed tones, the 12-year-old girl says she has been living in fear since she came to her step grandfather’s home; she does not even remember much about her parents.
“I don’t know much about my mother, I hear she was a stepdaughter to my grandfather but mother dumped me here many years ago; I can’t tell or remember her face,” she said.
Ruth claims any small thing she does calls for a beating, not getting food and sometimes going to school without money for break time, something she says has affected her studies. At 12, she is a primary six pupil at Kisaasi primary school. Although her school is not far from home, she is often not at school because of hunger.
“Life is not easy, I do all the housework and if it’s not done in time, I will be beaten. There was a time they beat me and a good Samaritan took me to a clinic,” she says.
Nankya, a concerned neighbor, admits that the family mistreats the girl; although she is not their daughter, they are always saddened and try to help from afar.
“I’m always concerned by the way they beat and mistreat this girl; she may not be wanted but that is too much. Unfortunately the girl doesn’t know any relatives; so, we help where we can,” she said.
She added: “I do what I can, I’m also not rich, but from my business I give at least Shs 500 to her to buy something during break time at school. I also I give food when I can.”
Nankya runs a grocery and vends food around Kisaasi area; she has developed good relationship with Ruth and she can freely attend to her problems.
“My worry is that this girl is approaching adolescence stage, this is the time she needs to know about her body. I don’t know what will happen; I fear she may end up getting married early because of the misery and home,” she adds. Fourteen-year-old Elly Ogwal in Lira district had to run from home at the age of 12; he didn’t see why he should continue suffering at the hands of a stepmother.
“I was told mum left home for Kampala and she did not come back. My father got another wife, but he also went to look for work in Kampala; so, I was left with my new mother,” he said.
The new mother was not friendly at all and subjected him to regular beatings. She denied Ogwal a chance to go to school and made him a baby keeper while her children went to school.
“I decided to leave home. My father also does not come home; we hear he is a security guard in Kampala and he has married again. He only sends money through the phone,” he said.
Ogwal now stays with a friends in Lira town. He now does odd jobs for survival; at that age, he feels his hopes of going to school are faraway dreams. He and his five friends rent a room at Shs 50,000 per month.
WHY THEY DON’T REPORT
Ruth says there was a time she was beaten and a neighbour took her to police to report, but nothing was done. The police did not buy her story but instead accused her of being a stubborn child.
“We went to police but nothing happened. Instead, my grandfather quarreled with the man who took me there. So, from that time, I don’t tell anybody for fear of victimization,” she said. Even Nankya admits that there is nothing much they can do because “these are our people”.
“We feel the pain of the child but Mzee is our person here, even the police officers and the LCs here fear him. They at times call him daddy. So, what justice can you get from them?” she wondered.
Ogwal narrated how he went to police but failed to be helped as nobody even recognised his presence and state at the station. So, he had to find his way home.
“Mother was beating me, I got off her grip and ran outside; that’s when I slipped and fell, hitting my head on the ground. A neighbour advised me to go to hospital, and after treatment, the nurse told me to report to police,” he said.
Ogwal added: “At police, nobody seemed to realise that I was there. I sat there for hours and when I told one of the officers my problem, he simply rebuked me and said I would get a curse if I reported my mother,” he said.
Eric Mukisa, the team leader, Child and Youth Arise Network, an organisation that is helping Ruth stay in school, said sometimes it is hard for children to report their tormentors.
Mukisa said Child and Youth Arise Network offers help in form of counselling, trainings, paying school fees to victims of violence. He says since the organisation is small, it is sometimes overwhelmed, but also the community does not cooperate.
“She [Ruth] was brought here by Nankya. When we tried to follow up, we were frustrated as the child did not turn up. So, we decided to go slow on her relatives,” he said.
He added; “In fact she was barred from coming here where we also train victims, giving them soft skills that will help them in future.”
Jim Balaba, the LC-I chairperson of Kirongero A village in Bugiri district, says there is always a challenge of helping victimized children; either the children don’t report or the parents are part of the community, something that makes it hard to reprimand them.
“Some of these children come, and we try to help. One of the remedies we offer is to sign agreements with parents or relatives; that is all we can do,” he said.
Balaba added; “Sometimes it a bit hard to manage because someone will say local leaders don’t like a certain family; so, at times we go slow on them.”
Senior Superintendent of Police Maureen Atuhaire, the in-charge, Child and Family Protection Unit at Uganda Police, says there is no law that allows a parent or a caregiver to beat a child, but sometimes it is done out of ignorance.
She explained that violence against children is very rampant because most parents and caregivers believe beating children is the only way of making them understand.
“People believe spanking is the only way of disciplining the child, it’s also common where parents are separated, the caretakers do it a lot; there is a lot of beating, burning, starving,” she said.
Atuhaire added: “We try to educate them through public sensitization; those days parents used to bring children for discipline here at police but we have tried to tell them there are better methods of disciplining the children.”
Police also said some cases are not reported because children fear where they will go if the parent or caretaker is put in prison.
“Many children don’t know there are laws protecting them; others grew knowing it is normal yet there are laws and a person can go to prison if found guilty of violating a child’s rights,” she said.