Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under section 145(a) of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two-years’ imprisonment for conviction.
Rape remained a common problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often involving kidnap and killings of women, but the authorities were very often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as government ministers, MPs, judicial officers, police officers, teachers, and university staff. According to local media and local CSOs, rape victims often felt powerless to report their abusers, in part to avoid stigmatization. CSOs reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to the police, UPF officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, or took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and pressure the victims into withdrawing the cases. According to CSOs, UPF personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases.
On March 10, local media reported that a UPF officer at Sukari Police Booth in Mbale district lured a female detainee away from the police cells to his home on the pretext that he would arrange her release from detention, but then he raped her. A local UPF spokesperson said the force would investigate the incident, but the UPF did not release any findings by year’s end. On April 24, local media reported that a UPF officer at a police station in Abim district raped a woman in UPF detention, allegedly impregnating her. A local UPF commander promised to investigate the matter but did not release any findings from the investigation by year’s end, and the accused officer continued to work at his posting.
Gender-based violence was also common and according to local media and CSOs, the government failed to enforce the law, and some officials actively encouraged it. On March 10, MP Onesmus Twinamatsiko reportedly said, “As a man, you need to discipline your wife. You need to touch her a bit, tackle her, and beat her somehow, to streamline her. If you leave her unpunished, she may become an undisciplined wife and this practice of not beating women has actually made them stubborn.” The MP, under pressure from the NRM leadership, apologized and withdrew his comments on March 14.
Local CSOs Action Aid, MIFUMI, and the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention operated shelters in regions across the country where gender-based violence victims can receive counseling and legal advice.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. According to UNICEF statistics from October 2017, 1.4 percent of women younger than age 50 had undergone FGM/C and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that FGM/C was prevalent only in the Karamoja and Sebei regions in the East and North East. Local CSOs reported that, although government efforts have seen a reduction in the practice of cutting girls, married women were increasingly yielding to pressure from their husbands to undergo FGM/C. Local CSO Reproductive Education and Community Health reported that in some communities, members of the husband’s family prevented uncut wives from serving food to the elders or attending traditional meetings.
Local media reported that government and religious institutions operated girls-only boarding schools to provide shelter for girls who fled their homes due to familial pressure to undergo FGM/C, or those who fled after being cut.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Media and local NGOs reported several cases of ritual child killings, violence against widows, and acid attacks. According to local media, traditional healers kidnapped and killed children to use their organs for ancestral worship. Local NGOs reported cases in which wealthy entrepreneurs and politicians paid traditional healers to sacrifice children to ensure their continued wealth and then bribed police officers to stop the investigations. On August 14, local media reported that the UPF arrested traditional healer Owen Ssebuyungo after it found an infant’s skull buried in his shrine’s compound. The state charged him with murder on August 19, and the case continued at year’s end.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, and workplaces. Local media reported numerous incidents of university staff who demanded sexual favors from students in exchange for high grades or procedural and administrative clearances. An internal investigation concluded in June into allegations of sexual harassment at the leading public institution Makerere University found that “sexual harassment was rampant” and “peaks towards graduation time when lecturers threaten to prevent female students from graduating, especially those with missing grades, unless they offer sex in exchange.” The same investigation reported that lecturers cited “indecently dressed” female students as a reason for sexual harassment at the university, before recommending that the university introduce a strict dress code. “Women loitering around with their open thighs is not okay. These are devils, little temptresses who harass innocent, defenseless lecturers,” the lecturers told the investigation. On April 29, female secretaries working in government offices, under their umbrella body the Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals in Uganda, complained to the minister for public service that their supervisors made sexual demands of them and threatened to fire them if they did not accept their advances. The minister encouraged the secretaries to report errant officials to the human resources for disciplinary action.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women, including in divorce, employment, education, and owning or managing businesses and property. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under customary laws in many areas, women could not own or inherit property or retain custody of their children if they were widowed. Local NGOs reported that the government occasionally paid significantly less compensation to women than men in exchange for land it repossessed, while in some cases, it forcefully evicted women without compensation. Traditional divorce law in many areas required women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men could “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships had no judicial recourse to protect their rights.
Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born in or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children younger than the age of 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children younger than 18 adopted by citizens.
The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services although some primary schools required birth certificates for enrollment, especially those in urban centers. Enrollment in public secondary schools, university, and tertiary institutions required birth certificates. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The law provides for compulsory education through the completion of primary school at age 12, and the government provided tuition-free education to four children per family in select public primary and secondary schools (ages six to 18 years). Parents, however, were required to provide lunch and schooling materials for their children.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits numerous forms of child abuse and provides penalties of 2,400,000 shillings ($640) or five-year imprisonment or both for persons convicted of abusing children’s rights. The law defines “statutory rape” as any sexual contact outside marriage with a child younger than the age of 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator, carrying a maximum penalty of death. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a cash or in-kind payment. The Children Amendment Act made corporal punishment in schools illegal and punishable by up to three-years’ imprisonment. The amendment also sought to protect children from hazardous employment and harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and FGM/C.
Despite the law, a pattern of child abuse existed in sexual assault, physical abuse, ritual killings, early marriage, FGM/C, child trafficking, infanticide, child labor, among other abuses. Local media reported that the vast majority of schools used beating with a cane as the preferred method of discipline, and a UNICEF report released in August stated that three in four children had experienced physical violence both at home and in school. Government statistics also showed that more than one in three girls experienced sexual violence during her childhood, and that most did not report the incidents because they feared they would get into trouble or would be shamed or embarrassed. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development also noted that corruption in police and health response services discouraged victims from reporting.
The government continued to work with UNICEF and NGOs–including Save the Children, the Child Fund, the Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, and the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect–to combat child abuse. The UPF provided free rape and statutory rape medical examination kits to hospitals and medical practitioners throughout the country to assist with investigations.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce this law in rural areas. Some parents commonly arranged marriages for their underage daughters. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development reported that impoverished families who viewed their daughters as financial assets forced them into early marriage to earn dowries. UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report estimated that 10 percent of girls married before age 15 and 40 percent before age 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, the sale and procurement of sexual services, and practices related to child pornography; and set the minimum age for consensual sex at 18 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however, and the problem was pervasive. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development reported that girls in impoverished families were susceptible to sexual exploitation by older men who lured them with the promise of material support.
Child Soldiers: The Lord’s Resistance Army continued to hold children against their will beyond the country’s borders.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: According to local media, some parents of children born with disabilities killed them in what the communities referred to as “mercy killings.” Local media reported that some parents who gave birth to children with partially formed limbs and deformed body structures killed them to wash their families of curses. Local police reported no knowledge of these incidents.
Displaced Children: Local media reported that poverty and famine drove families in the remote North East Karamoja region to send many children to Kampala to find work and beg on the streets. Authorities worked with CSOs to return Karamojong street children to their families, but the families soon returned the children to the streets because they partly depended on their collections to maintain their households.
Institutionalized Children: Local NGOs reported that the UPF often detained child and adult suspects in the same cells and held them beyond the legal limit of 48 hours prior to arraignment (see section 1.c). The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development and local media reported that many orphanages mistreated children under their care by denying them access to education, medication, and adequate nutrition.
The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development estimated more than 55,000 children were in approximately 1,000 orphanages, of which only 70 were approved by the ministry. More than half of all orphanages did not meet minimal standards and housed children illegally. Nearly 70 percent of orphanages maintained inadequate records.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law provides for access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.
The Equal Opportunities Commission reported that 80 percent of government agencies did not spend any funds on addressing concerns of persons with disabilities while 90 percent did not commit to any interventions targeting disabled persons in the next five years. Local CSOs reported that most buildings in the country were inaccessible to persons with disabilities because they lacked ramps, handrails, tactile markings, and elevators.
Persons with disabilities faced societal discrimination, and limited job and educational opportunities. Most schools did not accommodate persons with disabilities. The UNFPA reported that violence against persons with disabilities was common, especially in school at the hands of staff, but most cases went unreported. The UNFPA also reported that neighbors and family members who knew they were alone with persons with disabilities sometimes sexually abused them. Local media reported that some families killed children born with physical deformities (see section 6, Children) and that employers often denied jobs to persons with disabilities or paid them less than nondisabled persons for the same work.
There were reports that the authorities used violence to displace an ethnic community from disputed land. According to local CSOs, in mid-March the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the UPDF commenced a violent eviction of the Acholi community living on land in Apaa village, Adjumani district, which the government said formed part of a wildlife reserve. Local media reported that UPDF officers set on fire more than 700 huts and other property, shot and killed one person (see section 1.a.), and beat residents with sticks and guns butts. Local CSOs reported that UPDF officers stole bicycles and food belonging to the Acholi residents, even as the UPDF denied any wrongdoing, saying it carried out the eviction peacefully. On July 12, local media reported that 200 evictees from Apaa had camped at a UN compound in Gulu, where they stayed for four weeks. On August 22, local media reported that the president had appointed a committee to devise a peaceful resolution to the land dispute and that he had instructed the UPDF to cease evictions. On September 3, however, local media reported that forceful evictions continued.
Indigenous minorities continued to accuse the government of marginalization that disabled them from participating in decisions affecting their livelihood. The UHRC reported that government had denied recognition to the Maragoli community in western Uganda. Such nonrecognition excluded its members from access to social services and political participation. Local CSOs reported that since government displaced the Batwa and Benet communities in 1992, it had not relocated them, forcing them to live in makeshift communities that lacked adequate sanitation facilities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal according to a colonial-era law that criminalized “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provided for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Although the law did not restrict freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly for those speaking out about the human rights of LGBTI persons, the government severely restricted such rights. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services.
LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, societal harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities perpetrated violence against LGBTI individuals and blocked some meetings organized by LGBTI persons and activists. Local CSOs reported that public and private health-care services turned away LGBTI persons who sought medication and some led community members to beat LGBTI persons who sought health care. Local CSOs reported that some LGBTI persons needed to pay bribes to public health-care providers before they received treatment. According to local media, during the year authorities canceled a conference organized by local LGBTI activists to advocate for equal access to health-care services for LGBTI persons living with HIV. Local CSOs also reported that realtors denied housing to and evicted LGBTI persons and LGBTI organizations.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination and stigma were common and inhibited these persons from obtaining treatment and support. Local media reported numerous incidents of parents who abandoned children living with HIV; and of persons, particularly men, who abandoned spouses who were living with HIV. Police and the UPDF regularly refused to recruit persons who tested positive for HIV, claiming their bodies would be too weak for the rigorous training and subsequent deployment.
In cooperation with the government, international and local NGOs sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Government and HIV/AIDS counselors encouraged the population to test for and share information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence remained a problem. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in the UPF and judiciary to deliver justice. They attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, murder, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. Local media reported on April 6 that police in Mukono district had arrested an L.C.I chairperson for inciting a mob to stone to death a man suspected of stealing. Police said they were investigating the chairperson’s involvement in the crime but did not charge him by year’s end.