KAMPALA – Today, the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and its various impact on many, including children.
In Uganda, the situation is not any different, especially for the less privileged, the children living in Alternative Care Reforms.
The pandemic has seen millions of children’s learning interrupted because of school closures. Families have lost their livelihoods and are struggling to make ends meet. As a result of increased prices, many are having one meal a day which meals lack the necessary nutrients for children to grow well.
This, according to the experts has led to children around the country facing threats to their safety and well-being – including mistreatment, gender-based violence, exploitation, social exclusion, and separation from caregivers – because of actions taken to contain the disease, while many are missing out on life-saving vaccines and medication.
According to Child’s i Foundation, a Non-Governmental Organisation that helps children return to families by rebuilding family support systems, these factors and the possibility of anxiety, stigma and discrimination increase children’s vulnerability to abuse, exploitation and psychological distress.
On Wednesday, December 9, Child’s i Foundation, ChildFund Uganda, SOS Children’s Villages Uganda, and CRS Uganda held a virtual conference on Alternative Care Reform in Uganda to talk about the way forward.
They say that in extreme cases, children may find themselves robbed of a childhood as they step in for ill caretakers or work to supplement household income.
Addressing the conference, Fred Ngabirano, the Commissioner Youth and Children said that on October 5, the president while chairing the cabinet directed the ministry of gender to spearhead what he called “cultural audit” to ascertain cultural practices that could be responsible for the increased vulnerability of our children leading them to be abused, abandoned or being neglected.
“….and the Ministry of Gender is already working on a program on how to conduct these with support from other development partners. As I’ve already said, the current government’s commitment is highly reflected in the national policy 2020 and implementation and when we are constituting the national over seeks, we consulted widely and came up with a committee of more than thirty high-level citizens drawn from different institutions of the country like the ministry of Internal Affairs, health my ministry and others including even the UPDF,” he said.
“And then we have added on representatives from key partners. We have also included the academia, we have representatives from Makerere and Sun’s Institute of Social Development. We also have representatives from the private sector, cultural institutions and religious institutions represented by the Inter-religious council technical person.”
Ngabirano said that as a government, they pledge to continue working with the partners especially in regard to ensuring that whoever is supporting the government is in line with provisions of the law and also the several interventions stipulated in the national child policy.
“We have revived and strengthened our alternative care panel which is working closely judiciary to ensure that the issues of adoption most especially inter-country adoption. We have to ensure that the irregularities that even occurred in the past are addressed,” he said.
He revealed that the government has had some of the adoption orders being resisted after the ministry had appealed to the judiciary.
He said that the principal judge has constituted a committee that works with the ministry especially “where we believe that some of the adoption orders that resulted into children even being taken abroad through some of the scrupulous children homes are reassessed and action taken within the context of the law.”
On the same note, Mr Dumba Nyanzi, a consultant highlighted that some of the structures still face challenges of human resource and financing.
“With regard to prevention, there are several programs that have been implemented over the last decades focusing on the risks and vulnerabilities from children with support from development partners. You will note that a lot of this program has been implemented in a context Covid programming and are not evenly distributed across the districts in Uganda,” he said.
According to him, there are some districts that are excluded.
“Over the years a number of care projects have been implemented and some of these have deliberately focused on strengthening families like in Tororo and Makyindye but the question is to what extent is this sustainable because a lot of them rely on funding from external partners and a lot of them as we speak have ended,” he noted.
He said that a lot of informal carers and a lot of children in informal carers did support but the government never deliberately target them with the programming, saying that there are cases of children neglected or exposed to burdening.
“Different partners are experimenting with children’s homes to recover from institutional care to family-based care. We have a case of Child’s i Foundation in Tororo but also we have Catholic Care that is trying to support over twenty-four (24) Catholic-based child care instructions to transition to family-based care.”
Mr Ngabirano said the ministry with support from UNICEF has finalized reviewing the alternative care framework of 2012/13 which apparently now also has regulatory impact assessment and also a work plan.
“In the course of next week, we are submitting to the ministry of finance to get a certificate of financial clearance after which we submit to the cabinet secretariat enroute to the cabinet for discussion and approval. We call upon all who are working with us to work together. As a ministry, we have also made a case to the ministry of public service and as I talk, we have been cleared and assured to recruit three senior probation officers and one principal probation officer who are going to help us to strengthen the alternative care unit.”