The soaring horror of child abuse in Uganda


  • The absence of comprehensive legislation targeting child torture and an under-resourced child protection system further compound the issue. Urgent action is required to strengthen laws, policies, and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard children from physical and emotional violence.

The sinister issue of child abuse in Uganda,particularly inflicted by stepmothers upon their stepchildren, presents a growing concern for the country’s social fabric and demands urgent intervention. This inhumane form of punishment, in gruesome instances involving bodily harm inflicted by burning, underscores not only the terrible plight of the victims but also the need for society at large to unlearn and confront entrenched cultural norms and attitudes that contribute to such horrifying acts.

One could question why the phenomenon of physical torture by stepmothers is relatively prevalent and growing day by day in Uganda. Child mistreatment by their stepmothers has been witnessed in various forms, such as denying them basic needs like food, and healthcare to the biggest physical punishment of burning their bodies. The most recent case beinga one Shantel Mercy, a resident of Nyakaizi cell in Kakoba division Mbarara city who was arrested early last week for allegedly torturing her five-year-oldstepson by burning his back on top of severely beating him and making him sleep in the latrine.Neighbours who preferred anonymity also revealed that the accused woman has been asking the young boy to clean their latrine using his tongue.

While child discipline provides a facile excuse, it hardly warrants the gruesome punishments meted out in the guise of instilling moral decency. Detailed analysis points to more complex factors rooted in patriarchal practices, the prevalence of early marriage leading to young inexperienced mothers, socio-economic factors, lack of proper legal structures that fail to safeguard child rights, and widespread tolerance for corporal punishment.These factors, undoubtedly critical, however, do not absolve the Ugandan government and society from their shared responsibility in this issue.

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According to the Uganda Police Force report, 2022, a total of 1,240 cases of child abuse and torture were reported to the Police in 2022 compared to 1,073cases in 2021, giving a 15.6% increase in this crime category.Cruel, unusual punishments meted out to children are a gross violation of human rights and cannot be justified. Citing unaddressed psychological trauma, stress, or socio-economic hardship as defence mechanisms for the perpetrator fails to address the heart of the issue – the monstrous crime committed against helpless children.

Uganda’s absence of comprehensive legislation targeting child torture is a striking part of the problem. Limited safeguards in place prove inadequate alongside an under-resourced child protection system that cannot cope with the soaring rates of child abuse cases. The urgency calls for the immediate expansion and strengthening of laws and policies protecting children from physical and emotional violence,implemented in a cycle with an enabled, active child protection system that ensures the effective execution of these guidelines.

Societal intervention is equally necessary to combat this horrific trend. Child abuse in Uganda is embedded in a deeply-rooted patriarchal system that views children as possessions, victims of their stepmother’s status in the family. Education and awareness programs targeting these cultural norms are crucial to mitigate the shared social culpability. Alongside this, public discourse is needed to challenge prevailing attitudes wherein discipline is conflated with abuse, advocating for non-violent means of child-rearing.

It can no longer be a matter of sitting idle, watching this heartbreaking ordeal unfold in our society day in and day out. The collective responsibility to the children of this nation calls for an uncompromising commitment to systemic changes in policy, law enforcement, and societal attitudes.  Today, we cannot afford inaction or disregard for a problem that is eroding the principle of human dignity and respect for human rights.

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