• Fri Sep 14 2012
  • Life as an orphan in Uganda

At least 12.3 % of children in Uganda are orphans. 420,000 of these orphans have lost only a mother and 1,330,000 a father. However, 402,500 of these are total orphans, having lost both parents, and these are the more likely to end up in orphanages.
Vicky Wandawa
Journalist @ New vision
At least 12.3 % of children in Uganda are orphans. 420,000 of these orphans have lost only a mother and 1,330,000 a father. However, 402,500 of these are total orphans, having lost both parents, and these are the more likely to end up in orphanages.

By Vicky Wandawa

At least 12.3 % of children in Uganda are orphans. 420,000 of these orphans have lost only a mother and 1,330,000 a father. However, 402,500 of these are total orphans, having lost both parents, and these are the more likely to end up in orphanages.

However, at the beginning of 2012, about five orphanages in and around Kampala were closed by the Ministry of Labour, Gender and social development following reports of irregularities in their operations and variance with Government's Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) policy.

Freeman Kato, a senior probation and welfare officer at the ministry notes that the closure was as a result of reports of child trafficking, sexual abuse and poor facilities among other inadequacies, at the different orphanages.

What's more, some of the orphanages had turned into money making ventures as they were involved in ‘soliciting' for orphans from rural areas.

"Usually, when approached for funds to support an orphanage, a donor may request that at least a certain number of children is reached before the money can start flowing in. These orphanages went off to the villages to find ‘orphans', all in the name of attaining funds," Kato explains.

He continues that one of the Orphanages closed was Love ministries, located in Wakiso district.

One of the children found there, a nine year old said that when she was picked from her father's home, she was promised a nice home with good food, nice accommodation and good education.

The orphanage was allegedly being run by one Pastor Florence Athieno who was dragged to police after its Australian funders reportedly realised a diversion of funds, totaling to shs100m. The money had been flowing in since January 2009 but could not be accounted for.

The five orphanages that were closed had a total of 100 orphans, all of whom the probation officer says were resettled in other homes and families. He continues that the proprietors implicated in the five closed orphanages are under investigation by the police.

Consequently, the ministry has suspended the licensing of orphanages.

"We are doing an assessment of the homes in order to develop stringent rules and regulations under which orphanages will operate."

To qualify as an orphanage, the proprietors are required to be in possession of a certificate of approval by the ministry. Kato further points out requirements of an orphanage.


Some of the closed orphanages were found to have nonprofessional staff. "We require qualified social workers because these have been trained on how to handle children. Also, each orphanage should have a qualified registered nurse."

What's more, there should be ample staff. "For the babies aged one day to five years, there should be a social worker for every five of them. For those aged 5 to 18 years, there should be a social worker for every eight children."


Kato notes, "One of the questions we shall be asking is; do you have a stable supply of finances and how reliable is it?"


Each and every orphanage will be expected to have records for each individual.


Each orphanage must either have facilities for or resources to enable them educate the children.

Space and sleeping facilities

Some of the orphanages that were closed were found cramped up. Love ministries for example, was found too small to accommodate the big number of children it had.

Other requirements include allowing the relatives to visit and being in line with national policies to do with orphans and vulnerable children.

Way forward

Kato notes that by the end of July, the ministry will have finished the process of drafting the rules and regulations that orphanages should go by and then, licensing can resume. Out of the approximately 600 orphanages in Uganda, only 35 are fully registered under the ministry of Gender, Labour and social development. Kato says all orphanages will have to be registered and hold a certificate of approval.

What you must do before adoption

The procedure of adoption in Uganda should strictly be done through a lawyer.

Any couple or individual intending to adopt a child should foster them first; that is to say, they should live with the child for three years, and this should be under the supervision of a social welfare officer.

After the stipulated time, they should apply to the family and children's court to adopt the child. Here, the social and welfare officer will be required to give a recommendation to the court, if they deem it worthy. After the social and welfare officer recommends the parents in court, the parents acquire a court order, which is handed in to the registrar and a certificate of adoption issued.

The other requirements for adoption include:

-The person adopting must be over 25years of age. They should also be 21 years older than the child they are adopting.

-They must be of sound mind.

-They must not have a criminal record.

- In case they are non-Ugandans, they must present a letter from their home country acknowledging the adoption.

-Incase it's a couple; both the parents must have consented to the adoption.

-It's not recommended for an individual to adopt a child of the opposite sex, many background checks have to be done by the court, to ensure that their intentions will not change later on as the child grows older, such as entering into a sexual relationship with them.

-The court must prove that the child will be offered welfare in a permanent home.

However of late, there have been a number of people adopting children only to send them into child prostitution and trafficking; hence the courts have become stringent on adoption. Many background checks have to be made, for the court to approve of an adoption.

Nonetheless, usually the recommendation from the social welfare officer guarantees the rest of the procedure.

Sanyu Babies' home

Tiny, flawless skin and huge bright white eyes, Elijah looks deep into the eyes of the white volunteer holding him, as if searching for answers. Are you my mother? He seems to silently ask with his eyes. Elijah is one of the 47 children at the Sanyu babies' home.

Sanyu Babies' Home is located on Namirembe Hill, just below St. Paul's Cathedral, overlooking Kampala. The home cares for up to 50 babies and toddlers aged between 1 day old and 4 years old.

"Many children are found abandoned in garbage heaps, pit latrines, ditches, taxi parks or are left by the road side. The orphans we receive range in age, from a few hours to two years," explains Barbara Mutagubya, the administrator at the orphanage.

The Home actively looks to find foster parents, to place the child back into a family. Failure to find new foster parents will mean the child will stay at the Home until 4-years old when they will be transferred to another orphanage.

Sanyu Babies' Home is one of the oldest and the few Non-Governmental Organizations striving to save the destiny of such innocent souls. The Home is fully registered and administered by a Board of Governors as a voluntary organization linked to Namirembe Diocese.

Currently, the home has 32 boys and 15 girls. The administrator notes that during the months of October, November and December, the home receives many children.

"During those months, we can get even up to three children a week," says Mutagubya. This she says may be because of the sex workers who conceive during the festive season the previous year.

Mutagubya says that the home has no regular source of funds and encourages donors and adoption. She also notes that the home is 82years but by the time of celebrating 100years, they want to be self-sustaining and are already heading that way.

"Currently, we have a project of crafts that are sold, and a guest house, the proceeds of which are to support the children."

A day in the life of a baby at Sanyu babies home

At midnight, all children aged one year and below are fed. While those zero to six months are fed on milk, the six to one year are fed on porridge.

At 5am, the one day to one yearold children are fed again and clothes changed. At 6 am the children aged one year are woken up and fed too.

While some of them stay up to play, others return to bed.

At 7:30am all staff members pray together as a family. The children are involved in singing and dancing. The 15 month and 18month babies are bathed and potty training too goes on, after which the y go to class, at 9:00am.

The 6 to 18months are in one class and the 19months to three and four years are in top class. The younger ones are taken out to the morning sun and play. At 10am is break time for milk and a snack and 12am is time for lunch and more potty training and change of clothing.

They sleep up to three and then more change of clothing. A snack is served and then it is time for guided play, television and storytelling. Six pm is dinner and 8:30 a snack, then bedtime.

 Real life experience, Dickson Kahama, Lawyer, 26


I got into SOS children's village when I was about five years old. It must have been late November when the yellow bus pulled into the compound of SOS children's home. The place seemed strange to me. Nonetheless, I was excited. I was seeing lights for the very first time. The village I came form had no electricity. I was taken to house 13. There, I met new faces, who were to become my new sisters and brothers, and a mother. There were ten of us in the house, just like each other house. We all had one father, but different house mothers.

trueSometimes, my biological father visited. And with him, was a different uncle, each time he visited. I did not ask questions about the arrangement, although it sort of puzzled me, that I could not go back home with him. After a while, he passed away and I attended his burial. There I saw the uncles he came to visit with. There was a woman weeping uncontrollably. That is the last I saw of her, until 2004. I later learnt she was my step mother.

I attended SOS Herman Gmeiner School for my primary education. It was a beautiful life, we never lacked and I loved my mother and siblings. Although later I got to find out that we were not blood relatives, we still are a closely knit family today. Yes, like any other siblings we fought but still made up.

Our mother was in every way a mother to us into responsible adults. I would describe myself as hardworking, a strong Christian, sociable and eager to learn. And of course, the rod was not spared. But I am not complaining. It got me to where I am today. She also had motivational one to one talks with each of us; talks that I know built me. One of them was a reminder of where I was gotten from as well as an encouragement of where I could go to, if I worked hard. The reminder was not to put one down, it was made in a positive manner.

She made up for the fact that I did not get close to my father at the home. He was more of an official and we got to see him about once or twice a week.

I was hardworking in school, which earned me a bursary to the sister school, SOS Herman international college in Ghana for my secondary school education. I partly thank my elder siblings for that bursary because they always came back for holidays, told interesting stories and told me to work hard and join them there.

It is at 15 that I got curious and asked about my uncles about my history. However, no one seemed ready to tell me all about it and I received half-baked responses. Later, I learned that my father knew he would soon not be with me because of his unsteady health. So he brought me to the orphanage and visited with my uncles so I would get to know them. They also said my mother passed away and they did not know who it was.

I then went to University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and studied law.

I never lacked anything and was happy as a child. I was only sad whenever I was asked about my parents. Definitely, I would not go around telling everyone my story. Also, I felt sad whenever I saw people very proud of their families and history.

Nevertheless, I am close with the family at SOS. And though I visit my relatives in Gomba, formerly part of Mpigi district, if I asked a girl to meet my family, our first stop would be SOS then Gomba.

If there is anything I so badly want God to grant me, it is the ability to give back to humanity. I want to put up a nursery school, with all the best facilities and yet affordable, and perhaps free for the under privileged, if I have enough funds. Why a nursery school, because I love children. Those little children make me smile.