Govt considering community service for juvenile offenders

Jun 14, 2024

This groundbreaking development, currently under government review, aims to alleviate overcrowding in juvenile detention centers nationwide.

Members of Parliament on the Forum for Children together with their stakeholders taking a group photo after their engagement at Parliament on Friday. (Photo by Edith Namayanja)

Dedan Kimathi
Journalist @New Vision


In a significant shift from past practices, juvenile delinquents in the country may soon serve community service sentences instead of being held in remand homes. 

This groundbreaking development, currently under government review, aims to alleviate overcrowding in juvenile detention centers nationwide.

Fred Ngabirano, the Commissioner in charge of youth and children at the Ministry of Gender, disclosed this information on Friday, June 14, 2024, during a joint press briefing at Parliament. 

The briefing was held in preparation for the upcoming ‘International Day of the African Child’ celebrations scheduled for Sunday June 16, 2024 in Kiryandongo.

The International Day of the African Child, initiated by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) — the predecessor to the African Union (AU) — in 1991, commemorates the school children who participated in the Soweto uprising, demanding quality education and other essential needs.

“Recently, the Law reform commission has come up with other amendments in regard to how do we decongest children within our remand homes and we are looking at the (RIA). The regulatory impact assessment has recommended that children who are aged 16 and 17 years and taking into account the global legal frameworks especially the United Nations convention, the African charter can also be considered for community service,” said Ngabirano.

In essence, he intimated that this will enable child offenders to serve their sentences in days rather than remaining holed up in these institutions which is costly in terms.

“From our regional consultations, we have a committee of national community service which is looking at the amendment of the community service act. When it comes to parliament, kindly help us. Last week, I was in Fort Portal remand home, and we had 106 children,” Ngabirano added.

A handful of the child offenders, he pointed out, had committed capital offenders like defilement and murder which can be traced to the failures in parenting at family level and breakdown of community systems.

Official statistics indicate that a total of 12,771 cases of defilement were reported to Police in 2023, compared to 12,580 cases reported in 2022.

Taking cognizance, Ngabirano revealed that as a ministry they have come up with a parenting guideline which is currently being rolled out with support from partners.  

“Some of us know the challenges children are having as a result of poor parenting. Like this innocent soul we lost who committed suicide because the parents want this girl to do a course for her, not for herself,” he summed.

UHRC report findings

Concerns about the remand home system are not restrained to Ngabirano alone. The same issues were also raised in the 2023 report on state of human rights and freedoms in Uganda.

While presenting the findings to the speaker of parliament Anita Annet Among on May 23, 2024; Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) chairperson Mariam Fauzat Wangadya expressed grave concern about the appalling conditions in these facilities.

Suffice to note, Article 34(6) of the constitution which provides that child offenders shall be kept separately from adult offenders.  

In the seven remand homes and one rehabilitation they visited, UHRC decried starvation and poor sanitation standards which they contend played a part in the death of a juvenile named Lomiat Lokomolo from Lobanya, Kapeta Sub County Kotido District.

Lokomolo is said to have starved to death while in detention at Gulu Remand Home in April last year.

The deceased had been arrested alongside 300 other people including children during a Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) cordon and search operation following an upsurge in cattle rustling.

According to the commission, some of the arrested who had been harvesting maize at the time were transferred to Lobanya Army detach where screening was done to release the elderly, sickly and the elites.

Later 244 adults and 23 children were transferred to Kotido Central Police and 405 Brigade. Thereafter they were transferred to Agago District. Due to limited space at the detention facilities in Agago, the adults and children were transferred to Patiko Government Prison and Gulu Remand Home respectively.

However, it was later discovered that the juveniles were denied medical treatment while at the remand home and that they were starved and ordered to dig for long hours.

“The juveniles when interviewed alleged further that they were detained with adults hence were exposed to Tuberculosis (TB). When tests were conducted, 5 juveniles had tested positive for TB while the test results of others were still being awaited,” the UHRC report stated.

During interactions, the juveniles further disclosed that they were given inadequate food that was composed of “little posho and beans" and were forced to drink a lot of water before eating their meals. That they ate cassava and sweet potatoes peels as well as jackfruit seeds to supplement the meals offered by the remand home since they were starving.”

Worse still, the commission contends that despite admitting over 1,920 juveniles on various charges, remand homes across the country are understaffed.

A case in point is Kampiringisa in Mpigi which has a holding capacity of 220 juveniles and yet only has fourteen staff.

MPs speak out

Flavia Kabahenda, the chairperson of the house committee on gender, labor and social development emphasized the urgency of addressing issues affecting children. 

She highlighted that a number of child focused laws have been neglected while those passed by parliament have gathered plenty of dust in office cabinets.

Adding that a number of children centered laws have gathered dust in office cabinets.

“Africa if we have formed regional blocs, for us we belong to the East African Community (EAC) and we have seven bills that would concern children that have spent on the shelves, eight years without any head of state assenting. The bill on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 2016, the bill on anti-trafficking in persons 2017,” Kabahenda exclaimed.

“All of them are on the shelves, no president wants to assent and they are not even giving us any reason and yet these same presidents have similar legislations at country level, they would find it even easier to assent to these bills,” she further stated.

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