Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) in Uganda
What is the definition of an “Orphan” according to the Ugandan Government?
The basic definition of orphan is a child whose parents are deceased. However, for purposes of interpreting the LAW, an orphan is a child who has no one to take care of him or her.
What are common causes of a child being orphaned?
Children are orphaned for a variety of reasons – Death of parents due to disease, political instability, starvation, lack of medical care, etc.
Why are children commonly abandoned?
Some of the reasons why a parent may choose to abandon a child include:
- When a child is born to a vulnerable mother.
- Economic hardship – Parents in poverty who cannot continue supporting their child.
- A parent’s fear of being shamed by extended family and society for one reason or another.
- Some children are the result of rape and defilement.
- Cultural issues – Often a man marrying a widowed woman will not allow her children from a previous marriage to live in his house.
- Medical reasons – The child may be in danger of death or have a severe disability and if the parent cannot afford medical care, she hopes a “Good Samaritan” will rescue the child.
Why aren’t all children living in orphanages adoptable?
In most orphanages, any given percentage of children housed there may be adoptable or not adoptable. Just one more reason why adoptive families and placement agencies must have a very thorough investigation into the child’s background. There are many, many children in Uganda who live in orphanages yet they are not adoptable. Reasons include some positive as well as negative reasons:
Sometimes, placement in an orphanage may be a preventive measure for the child (i.e. children that have suffered abuse from their parents, or their parents are in prison). Or, children may be temporarily placed in an orphanage for medical reasons or to help alleviate a crisis situation in the family.
Other times, children are placed in orphanages for the purpose of document qualification, making them appear to be orphans when actually they may have families that love them and can take care of them, or could take better care of their children through sponsorship or other means of family support (i.e. daycare).
Why are there non-orphans living in orphanages?
This is an unfortunate situation. However, non-orphans live in orphanages for several reasons.
On the part of a child’s family, the reasons are mainly due to any of the following:
Poverty– Parents voluntarily relinquish their children to orphanages because they cannot afford to take care of them.
Ignorance– Some parents are illiterate and sign off their parental rights to orphanages without knowing the implications of this action.
Disease – Parents may have illneses like HIV/AIDS and are unable to provide proper care to their children
In regards to orphanages, reasons why children are inappropriately placed in orphanages include:
Opportunism– Orphanages intentionally lure children away from families with the promises of providing proper care and education. While this may sound great, it is unnecessary to disrupt the family structure and instead should be trying to support these children while they stay with their families. Orphanages depend on their census of children as a source of income and recognition from donors – Just like any business. Therefore, they gain little to nothing for trying to keep children with their families of origin and have much to gain by feeding into donors’ sympathies by keeping children in their institutions.
Illegal Immigration– Orphanages take in non-orphans to create a path for illegal immigration, and sometimes even put children up for adoption without their families’ knowledge.
Is there a cutoff for older child adoption?
Yes – In Uganda, a child must be 16 years and below to be adopted.
What happens to a child when he or she “ages out” of an orphanage?
When a child ages out of an orphanage that takes care of children under a certain age, the child will be transferred when they are too old to be in the home and are sent to another orphanage for children in the next age group. Unfortunately, Uganda does have guidelines set aside for a child aging out of an orphanage but these guidelines are not followed in practice. Children are institutionalized until they make the decision to leave when they are adults or only teenagers. This is one of the ways street children are created because they are frustrated with life inside the orphanage and decide to go out into the world on their own. This choice doesn’t always go well, as many turn into criminals and are highly likely to engage in rape and under age sex…Which leads to the births of children who are then abandoned and the vicious cycle continues on.
How or to whom are child abandonments reported and what, if any, investigations take place?
Child abandonment cases are mainly reported to the nearest authority (i.e. Local Council Officials and the police). Unfortunately in current practice, no thorough investigations are actually done at the time of abandonment. Once an abandoned child is taken to the police, the police take them to a probation officer who in turn assigns them to an orphanage. Responsible orphanages are at this point supposed to do orphan investigations before children are taken into their custody, but they rarely make any effort to investigate unless an adoptive family is matched with the child and they need to run newspaper/radio advertisements as a formality before proceeding with adoption.
What is the alternative care (AC) model?
The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children are intended to enhance the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989, and other relevant provisions of international and regional human rights law, in matters of protection and well-being of children who are in need of alternative care, or who are at risk of being so. It focuses on two main aspects:
- Ensure that children do not find themselves placed in alternative care unnecessarily; and
- That, where out-of-home care is provided, it is provided in appropriate conditions and of a type that responds to the child’s rights, needs and best interests.
At the UN General Assembly 64th Session dated February 24th 2010, Agenda item 64 spelled out the Guidelines for Alternative Care for Children. The abstract can be found here: UN 64th – AC resolution.