Vouch­ing for the vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in Par­lia­ment – the strug­gle con­tin­ues

By: Winnie Watera

There is a plan and a pur­pose, a value to every life no mat­ter what its lo­ca­tion age, gen­der or dis­abil­ity- Shar­ron An­gle

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity, vul­ner­a­bil­ity gen­er­ally refers to those in­di­vid­u­als or groups who, due to age, ill-health, in­fir­mity, mi­nor­ity sta­tus or their oth­er­wise dis­em­pow­ered po­si­tion in so­ci­ety may be open to ex­ploita­tion (whether phys­i­cal, emo­tional or psy­cho­log­i­cal)

Sto­ries of plight of older per­sons, Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties (PWDs), chil­dren have been a com­mon oc­cur­rence in the news­pa­pers. It is im­por­tant to note that most  of the cases re­ported are few in com­par­i­son to what the sit­u­a­tion on the ground is. There are man that go un­no­ticed and  un­pun­ished. When one pays close at­ten­tion every time they read a news­pa­per, one will find that daily a story is run on vul­ner­a­ble per­sons ei­ther: PWDs, the el­derly or chil­dren among oth­ers. 

The pop­u­la­tion of chil­dren in Uganda is es­ti­mated to be 56% of Ugan­da’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Sur­vey find­ings by the Uganda Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics (UBOS) re­vealed that 12 % of chil­dren in Uganda are or­phans. About 1.1 mil­lion house­holds had at least one or­phan; and the North­ern re­gion had the high­est per­cent­age (20%) of house­holds with 4 or more or­phans. More than half (51%) of chil­dren aged 5-17 years were eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive while 25% of chil­dren were child la­bor­ers and 38% of those aged 0-17 years were vul­ner­a­ble. The sur­vey also showed that there were about 1.3 mil­lion older per­sons (60 years and above) in the coun­try. Most of whom are faced with chal­lenges of look­ing af­ter grand­chil­dren es­pe­cially or­phans. Over­all, 16% of the pop­u­la­tion aged 5 years and above had a dis­abil­ity. 10% of the Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties aged 6–24 years were not lim­ited by their dif­fi­cul­ties to at­tend school while 13% of those aged 14–64 re­ported that their abil­ity to work was not af­fected.

Cur­rently there are three very im­por­tant leg­is­la­tions on the floor of par­lia­ment; the two chil­dren’s Act amend­ment bills 2015; this is be­cause two bills bear­ing the same num­ber were gazetted and the other is the Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties Bill 2014. While these bills are an achieve­ment for the chil­dren and PWDs the process has­n’t been flaw­less this is per­haps why we see two bills the same in na­ture pre­sented in par­lia­ment.

In the Chil­dren’s Act Amend­ment bill 2015, one of the ma­jor causes of con­tention in the amend­ment bill is the in­ter–coun­try adop­tion of chil­dren. Tough laws are in­cor­po­rated in the bills and gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of lax­ity in the area since many gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have gained from il­le­gal adop­tions over the years. A so­lu­tion other than what the bills pro­pose should be rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Hague con­ven­tion on Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren and Co­op­er­a­tion in re­spect of in­ter-coun­try Adop­tions 1993. That aside there is a row be­tween whose bill should be the lead bill, the is­sue is cur­rently be­fore the com­mit­tee on Gen­der and is yet to be de­lib­er­ated on.

For The Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties Bill, 2014, ma­jor stake­hold­ers be­lieve the bill is flawed. When ap­pear­ing be­fore the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on Gen­der La­bor and So­cial De­vel­op­ment, the PWDs re­jected and crit­i­cized the bill. The coali­tion led by Mr. Am­brose Mu­lan­gira told the com­mit­tee that the bill had many loop­holes and did­n’t pro­tect PWDs. They also de­cried the bill say­ing that gov­ern­ment was rid­ding it­self of any oblig­a­tion to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties be­cause the bill sug­gests the pri­vate sec­tor takes care of PWDs. The bill whose in­tent is to com­pletely scrap off the Dis­abil­ity Act 2006 has­n’t been owned by the PWDs. An­other is­sue of con­tention in the bill is that dis­abil­ity can only be proved by a doc­tor while it should how­ever be noted that dis­abil­ity is a sub­jec­tive en­tity of which the pres­ence is to a large ex­tent de­ter­mined by the per­son ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it. Since the ques­tions rely on self-di­ag­no­sis of re­spon­dents, cau­tion is re­quired in draw­ing con­clu­sions and mak­ing com­par­isons about dis­abil­ity.

The NGO com­mu­nity has how­ever called upon the gov­ern­ment and the leg­is­la­tors to do more.  “It’s time we dropped the façade and turned away from the po­lit­i­cal jig­saw be­tween Par­lia­ment and the Ex­ec­u­tive and paid at­ten­tion to the silent ma­jor­ity who are yearn­ing for pro­tec­tion. Par­lia­ment and ma­jor stake­hold­ers should fast track both bills for that pur­pose.” – Mrs Stella Ayo – Odongo The Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Uganda Child Rights NGO Net­work. And I could­n’t agree more.