Children on the Edge Africa is at the forefront of efforts to lobby the Ugandan parliament to tackle child sacrifice through the legal system. We ask CEO Winnie Biira about progress so far...
I didn’t think this happened any more?
Child sacrifice has emerged as a horrifying form of child abuse in Uganda. In the past decade, sacrifice of children in Uganda has been cited by the media, police and Government of Uganda as a major child protection concern. Police records continue to highlight numerous cases of child sacrifice in the country. The media in Uganda is also awash with stories of gruesome murders on young, innocent children committed for various reasons.
Why does it happen?
A study carried out by Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) with support from Children on the Edge, showed how the practice is rooted in a number of socio-economic and cultural factors as well as traditional beliefs that the ritual murder or mutilation of children can bring health, wealth and good fortune. Children are more likely to fall victims to sacrifice compared to adults, because they are more easily lured and believed to be “pure”. Adults drawn to the practice are tricked into believing that the purity of child makes the ritual more powerful.
Why is the law not working?
Currently, human sacrifice cases in Uganda are prosecuted as murder under the Penal Code Act. These cases have a very unique nature, so the offence of murder is not sufficient to deal with the practice. For example a child could be kidnapped for sacrifice but get away, or could be mutilated but still live, and there is no law to deal with the severity of that crime. Sadly this results in perpetrators committing crimes with relative impunity. A statement from Uganda Police Force in 2015 showed how 87 cases of child sacrifice were registered over eight years nationwide, but only 23 were put before the High Court and only two people were convicted!
What needs to change?
This crime needs to be represented as an offence within its own right and sentences need to be strict, stringent and non-negotiable. Associated crimes need to be explicitly identified and processes put in place to facilitate effective investigation. This will lead to an increase in successful prosecutions and should deter those involved in the crime. Our work is consequently geared at strengthening legislation to prevent and prohibit human sacrifice and harmful practices.
What has been achieved so far?
It’s been a lot of work and a hugely complex journey, but I will describe some of the milestones…
At the start, Children on the Edge Africa worked with a group of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to engage the ‘Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children’ to draft a Bill to end Human Sacrifice in Uganda. It’s called ‘The Prevention and Prohibition of Human Sacrifice and other Traditional Harmful Practices Bill, 2017’.
Through 2016 we worked with the police, the media and traditional healers, looking at how cases are dealt with and promoting a petition to ensure witch doctors do not advertise through the media. In 2017, through work with UCRNN, we focussed on gaining testimonies from survivors and families and Honorable Atiku Bernard introduced a private members bill for the Act.
In 2018, World Vision Uganda spearheaded community consultative meetings in the law making process in Nakasongola, Buikwe, Busia and Rakai and by September 2018 with support from Children on The Edge Africa and Save the Children, a benchmark trip was made to Tanzania to research their legal approach to tackling human sacrifice. Shortly after this further consultations were facilitated, aiding in the improvement and momentum of the bill with MPs.
Further refinements were made throughout 2019 and the bill was reviewed by the Director of the Legal department of Parliament to make it ready for a Judges meeting in July. Through until August 2020 more refinement and work had to be done, until it was published in August 2020 ready for the first reading in Ugandan parliament.
Running concurrently with this national work, Children on the Edge Africa is rolling out of a community based model of eradicating child sacrifice incidents. Through voluntary Child Protection Teams, a simple method of community safety and awareness is established. After a pilot scheme stopped all abductions in Masese II slum, this model has been replicated in four further communities surrounding Jinja with excellent results.
Find out more about our work in Uganda.