NGO calls for parliament to halt Children's Bill

By Moses Mulondo

Of the concerns raised include attempts by the Bill to introduce a new practice of legal guardianship by foreigners

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Family Life Network (FLN) has written to parliament asking the house to halt debate on the Children Amendment Bill until dangerous clauses are widely discussed by various stakeholders.

In a letter dated March 1, 2016, Family Life Network executive director Stephen Langa notified the speaker that his organization and many other stakeholders were not accorded an opportunity to have an input in the Bill.

"We are surprised that such an important Bill can be taken forward without the input of such major stakeholders as the parents and families of Uganda," Langa stated in the letter.

"Most of the Committee's work involved residential workshops with the Bill's sponsors. Despite our request to appear and have input, there was hardly any time allocated for public hearing on the Bill," he argued.

FLN pointed out, legalization of harmful practices like prostitution, pornography, and removing the safeguards in the parent act intended to limit large outflow of children into foreign adoptions, as dangerous sections in the Bill.

Another concern they raised include attempts by the Bill to introduce a new practice of legal guardianship by foreigners which will further increase outflow of Uganda children into foreign care with few safeguards for their safety.

Langa also noted that in the Bill, probation officers are stripped of their central role as managers of child welfare and protection and a liberal regime is established "where so-called designate child protection organizations will have powers to manage child welfare and protection without the supervision of probation and social welfare officers. 

Faulting clause 6 which he says defeats the parental responsibility principle, Langa said, "The Parental Responsibility principle in the principal Act was meant to emphasize the natural parent's responsibility for the child's upbringing, irrespective of life's challenges like poverty and unemployment Clause 6 of the Bill misunderstands the purpose of the parental responsibility principle, when it proposes that a guardian should share the natural parent's responsibility for the child.

This would be counterproductive since it would leave children vulnerable, due to lack of parental love and care which is guaranteed by the Constitution and key international documents and conventions which Uganda is a signatory to," he explained.

Asking parliament to halt debate on the Bill until further consultations are made, Langa said, "We have studied and scrutinized the whole Bill as well as the Committee Report which is before Parliament right now, and to our amazement and shock, the Bill contains some very dangerous and destructive clauses which if passed into law would ruin the lives of many Ugandan children, families and parenting."

Family Life Network also opposes the creation of the Children's Authority as the Bill proposes, arguing not only will it be duplicating the role of the ministry of gender, labour and social development but will also be foreign-funded and therefore promote foreign interests.

While the Bill was being debated on Tuesday, the minister for gender Muruli Mukasa also opposed the proposal for creating the authority saying, "Since the authority will not be generating its own revenue, it would be costly to government. It will also set a precedent of continued creation of authorities for various groups of people in our country."

Serere woman MP Alice Alaso warned the house against the clause on legal guardianship and adoption which would open gates for foreigners to easily take away Uganda children.

After a heated debate on the matter, the speaker halted debate on the Bill so that debate is resumed after MPs have made research and consultations on matters of legal guardianship and adoption.