KAMPALA – The Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), in consortium with The Uganda Key Populations Consortium (UKPC) and Uganda Network of young people living HIV/AIDS (UNYPA) on Wednesday, held a national symposium on bodily autonomy and integrity in Uganda which intended at calling on different stakeholders to fight the deteriorating human rights violation in the country.
Speaking to the press at Hotel Africana, UGANET Executive Director Ms. Dorah Kiconco Musinguzi said that the national symposium on bodily autonomy and integrity was a simple way of saying on human rights that recognize a person in their full nature as human beings.
The symposium funded by The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) seeks to equip individuals with enough knowledge and fight for their rights so they can make informed choices and decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health needs.
According to these Civil Society Organisations – CSOs, despite bodily autonomy and integrity is a key constitutional right, in Uganda, sexual reproductive health rights remain a big challenge.
“We actually always reduce the word bodily autonomy and integrity in the simple words as human dignity and for us, we are discussing this concept from the health perspective because we’re health advocates and we’re human rights laws,” said Ms. Musinguzi.
“So UGANET convened partners, including members of Parliament, members of the community, ministry of health so we understand together where we are at as a country. We’ve specifically highlighted the issues of gender inequality and sexual violence amongst the young girls, who we believe have violated the most. The big rallying calling today are the young women and girls who were raped, defiled, sexually abused within the period of Covid-19.”
Uganda has been on the verge of gender-based violence including concerns of teenage pregnancies prior to the March 2020 Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
The recent statistics indicate that over 17,000 pregnancies have been posted across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the UGANET boss says that they cannot blame Covid-19 anymore.
“The people who violated the rights of these young women and girls is not Covid. It is men, boys, relatives, uncles who are there, they’re known and on the run. Many are not in prison, so that’s impunity of asking who will protect the rights of a young woman and a young girl,” she said.
“When we say that our laws are there, I’m quoting this from the constitution. Rights of respect, protection, non-discrimination, non-violation are enshrined in our constitution but what is happening in the practice, it is totally different,” she outcried, adding that, “What does it mean in the health implication, fistula cases, HIV cases, depression, futures cut short, unsafe abortion.”
The CSOs say that even though the Penal Code criminalizes sex with a child under the age of 18, Uganda is amongst the twenty (20) countries with the highest absolute numbers of child brides and cases of teenage pregnancies and defilement.
Ms. Musinguzi revealed that she has a 15-year old girl in the UGANET shelter who narrated to her the pain she passed through after conceiving for her uncle.
“She told me, “my God I’ve never experienced much pain like that’, my uncle who raped me, a rich man in Bushenyi brought me to Kampala in a clinic in Kawempe and I was taken to a dark room, put on a bed I screamed and fought for life but they insisted without putting me on an anesthesia to remove that little foetus that was as old as two months.”
“So you imagine how many are like that girl. So that pain is what we are asking our leaders, our Parliament, our health actors and planners to not do business as usual. We want these leaders to be angry enough to take action, angry enough to direct enough budgets and resources to help the four thousand people that cannot be given the support,” she said.
The young people living with HIV decried the tough measures and discrimination imposed on them. They say that even though Uganda HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2015 contains provisions of criminalizing HIV transmission and exposure, it has been re-introduced in the sexual offences bill.
“It [bill] also contains other problematic provisions such as mandatory HIV testing of pregnant women and their partners, victims of sexual offences and people convicted of a sexual offence, drug use and sex work; and the disclosure of HIV status without consent by medical practitioners,” they said.
The CSOs called for law-making processes without being guided by emotion, perception and fears of one group in a community.
“Law-making process is sensitive in regard to the conversation that we are having around bail and legislating for bail. Surely, we are breaking a very core human standard. So, what should be done is to really ask our President and his enabling team to really reconsider because we are going to negotiate the non-negotiable. We are going to legislate an issue that touches the core of humanity. The right to bail is such protection in the whole picture of access to justice,” Ms. Musinguzi said.
MP Kitanywa Sowedi, the Busongola North County representative in Kasese district said that the issues of human rights should be non-negotiable.
However, he said that as one enjoys their rights, they should not infringe on another person’s rights.
“There is a problem which we have in this country where people claim of their rights but their rights could also be infringing on other people’s rights,” he said.
“So in terms of rights to dignity, rights to non-discrimination, rights that are inherit we strongly support.”