By Esther Namirimu
The gender ministry and directors of children’s homes across Uganda have met and discussed ways to ensure that orphans and vulnerable children are not illegally placed into alternative care.
There arose suggestions that children should remain with their families instead of growing up in institutions because they end up losing their identity.
The argument from James Ssembatya from the gender and labour ministry was that the resources children’s homes use are enough to sustain a family and bring it out of poverty rather than using that money to run a children’s home.
Ssembatya, who is an assistant commissioner at the ministry, said: “If these families are supported economically, they can look after their children.”
The ministry, he said, promotes foster care since it can be an alternative to family preservation and later children can go back to their families.
The meeting, which took place at Namirembe Resource Center, got the directors of homes and gender ministry officials engaged in discussing potential solutions to the problem.
Operation of children’s homes is catered for in the Children’s Act, chapter 59 under the children and babies homes rules.
But some institutions, oblivious to this law, go ahead to operate homes illegally.
The gender and labour ministry encourages promotion of local adoption of children since it is cheaper and more secure than inter-country adoption.
Ssembatya’s fear is that in case children are adopted and taken out of the country, they are likely to get disconnected from their cultural identity.
He prefers such children stay with their families and in country where “we can monitor their families and give them protection”.
There have been cases where people have been given guardianship of helpless children by the High Court, and after a short stay with them, they fly them abroad and adopt them.
Sometimes, such rash decisions weigh down on the adopted child. When he or she does not bond well with his or her new family abroad, he or she is sent to a children’s home there.
The ministry official recounted a case where children were taken abroad but did not bond well with the adoptive parents and they were driven out.
‘A beautiful thing’
Freda Luzinda, formerly working at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala processing adoption visas, outlines the importance of keeping a family intact.
“Family preservation is important through reunification and reintegration,” she says.
After working for two years at the embassy, Luzinda is presently the country's national director of Child Advocacy Africa, an NGO promoting child rights and welfare.
Many Ugandans conceive adoption is largely a foreign practice. While there is plenty of truth to that perception, it is also true that the practice is becoming more popular by the day.
But the reality that surrounds adoption of children is what is making some helpless parents to cling onto their children, with cases of abuse of the practice going off people’s lips.
Luzinda admits that despite this criticism, that “inter-country adoption has much been a criticized concept because it’s been battered, abused due to bad practice and money involved”, when done correctly – or legally, if you want – it is a beautiful thing.
The explosive growth of the adoption industry in Uganda has fueled fears that children are being exploited for profit and that the best interests of the child is not prioritized.
"Orphan creation does happen a lot in Uganda, and this is done by adoption facilitators who will go and scout the slums, find vulnerable families and talk them into giving up their children," said Luzinda.
The police force came up with the Child Protection Unit in 1995 to primarily raise awareness through community policing by visiting schools, markets, churches and teach people about the dangers of child abuse, children’s rights and responsibilities.
The unit created a toll free line 0800199033 to handle children matters.
It also has motor vehicle patrols that cover designated areas within the city and upcountry highways.