Opinion
Let's protect children's right to grow in a family environment
Publish Date: Mar 26, 2014
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By Tom Musinguzi

AT 21, I joined other youths from around the world to build a girls dormitory for “orphans” at a child-care institution in Masaka, where 95% of its pupils (maybe more) had one or both parents living!

Although I had rewarding moments volunteering, it broke my heart to see little children cramped up in this “orphanage” for a long time, deprived of parental love and care. I could not shake off the feeling that this “orphanage” was not a healthy place for kids to grow up in.

A year later, I was invited to London for a conference. Among other activities, we spent a weekend at Mellow Farm, Dockenfield, with over 50 deprived and at-risk children – the poor, obese, malnourished, bullied, abused, deaf, blind, amputees, children with Down syndrome – all brought in from across London.

I was surprised to find that none of these exceptionally vulnerable children came from an orphanage. (The West closed orphanages down in the 60′s and 70′s). I was told that social workers and care givers in UK do everything to see that vulnerable children are moved from foster homes and reunited with their biological family.

That got me thinking. I asked myself; “why don’t we have childcare homes in Uganda that support children’s immediate needs while protecting their right to grow in a family environment in the long-term?”

I couldn’t understand why orphanages in Uganda are seen as a first-and-only resort for vulnerable children when support can be given to families to take care of their own children at home.

After some serious research, it didn’t take me long to discover that orphanages in Uganda are healthy in business, the reason they’re multiplying faster, left, right and center.

By July 2011, there were 35 fully-registered orphanages. But, in reality, there are 600 childcare homes or “orphanages” that the government knows about and probably hundreds more across the country that are un-licensed!

Most commonly, orphanages in Uganda keep voiceless children at a substandard level so that donors can see how critical and desperate the situation is to keep donating money – and a large portion of these funds is easily pocketed for personal profit.

This explains why there is little or no work done by orphanages to improve the situation of children, and the result; orphanages have now become permanent “homes” for at-risk children, and the more children they find the better.

The level of physical abuse and neglect that’s taking place in many orphanages is alarming. Sometimes there is extreme sexual abuse instigated by both adults and other children resident in the "home".

And some children are “sold” to Western adoption agencies for large sums of money. Some orphanages are overwhelmed with the needs of so many children; you find children eating one meal a day, with no medical care, even if they have HIV, and some are not being educated at all.

If abandoned children had a voice, they’d tell us that an orphanage is not a place for them to stay. If they had a voice, they’d tell us to open our hearts and homes for them.

If they had a voice, they’d ask us to close all “orphanages” down and turn them into Day-Care and Recreational Centers where they can go to play, read, draw, dance, share laughter, learn Music, Math, Science, and acquire new ideas and interests that they wouldn't otherwise have a chance to experience.

If children in orphanages had a voice, they’d tell us to support organizations like UGANDANS ADOPT that work towards reunifying abandoned children back with their birth-family relations or, if a trace is not possible or is not suitable, look for foster or adoptive Ugandan families to suit the individual needs of all children.

The reality I am seeing is that most children are abandoned in “orphanages”, not because their parents are very poor or they don’t have love for their little ones, but because they expect others (foreign “experts”, NGO’s, Church organizations, UN, and the government to provide their children with access to food, clothes, shelter, medical services and other monetary support.

Sincerely, don’t you think now is the time to change this sponsorship thinking/AID dependency attitude, and build a new, cohesive, independent society?

Doesn’t it make you angry that Ugandan children, our future, are at a greater risk of child trafficking, neglect, physical and sexual abuse? It makes me angry. It makes me want to do something different.

How about you? Remember, sometimes the riskiest decision we make is to do nothing at all.

The writer is a social entrepreneur

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