Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The law defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under a section of the law 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 kidnapping and killings of women, but authorities were often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as religious leaders, local government officials, police and military officers, health-care workers, and academic staff. According to local media and human rights activists, many rape survivors lacked faith in government institutions to bring their abusers to justice and declined to report the crime, while others remained silent to avoid stigmatization. Human rights activists and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to police, officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and to pressure the survivors into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to human rights activists, police personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. Human rights activists also reported that some police stations lacked female officers on the staff, which discouraged rape survivors from reporting their cases. On March 16, local media reported that police in Moroto District arrested one of its officers, Moses Steven Ebu, on allegations of rape. According to local media, the survivor sought refuge at Camp Swahili Police Post after she was unable to find public transport home before curfew. Ebu allegedly raped her at the police post. On March 18, local media reported that police had arraigned Ebu in court and charged him with rape. The trial continued at year’s end.
Human rights activists also noted that government restrictions on movement to combat COVID-19 made it difficult for survivors to report rape or access postexposure prophylaxis after rape. Local government officials, academics, and journalists reported that gender-based violence was common and worsened during restrictions to combat COVID-19. Human rights activists reported that the restrictions increased poverty for many households, which raised tensions and conflict in domestic settings, particularly violence against women. The activists also reported that during the June to July COVID-19 lockdown, some survivor support centers closed and rendered many survivors unable to access help. On September 1, local media reported that military officer Samuel Ojara shot and killed himself after he had shot and killed a 20-year-old woman identified as Sharon Okello in what the police stated was an attempted rape.
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; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey, 0.3 percent of the female population younger than age 50 had undergone FGM/C. Local media and government officials, however, reported that the practice was common among some communities along the eastern border with Kenya. Government officials reported that some parents and cultural leaders in the Karamoja subregion used the school closures due to COVID-19 to force teenage girls to undergo FGM/C, which led many girls to flee into neighboring Kenya. Local government leaders also reported that some cultural leaders in Amudat District traveled to Kenya on the pretext of celebrating the end-of-year December-January holiday season and subjected girls to FGM/C. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated FGM/C incidents by enabling practitioners to carry out the practice in hiding. UNFPA also reported that the government had committed $55,000 to interventions against FGM/C in the Sebei subregion. The resident district commissioner in Amudat District announced on February 25 that the government had recruited a network of informers in communities throughout the district who would strengthen surveillance and enforcement efforts against FGM/C. UNICEF reported that it was working with 20 young men married to women who did not undergo FGM/C as social ambassadors to convince communities that FGM/C was unnecessary.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and human rights activists, violence against widows was prevalent. The activists reported that widows in remote areas complained that their deceased husband’s families forced them to marry their brothers-in-law to compensate for the bride price paid to their families. The law does not explicitly provide widows with the opportunity to consent before marrying their brothers-in-law. Local media also reported that many widows in remote areas experienced sexual violence at the hands of their deceased husband’s family and lost their rights to property (see section 6, Discrimination).
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, workplaces, public transport, public spaces, media, and in the music and entertainment industry. Local media reported numerous incidents of senior executives, public servants in the legislature and judiciary, and music producers who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. On May 7, parliament called for the prosecution of philanthropist Bryan Kirumira, also known as Bryan White, after parliament’s Committee on Human Rights found that he sexually harassed women he employed in his charity, the Bryan White Foundation. The committee found that the military and police provided Kirumura with protection, which intimidated survivors and deterred them from seeking justice. The public prosecutor had not brought any charges against Kirumira by year’s end.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Human rights activists reported that although persons with disabilities had the right to access reproductive services, the absence of health workers with the ability to communicate with blind and deaf patients meant that many persons with disabilities did not receive all the information they needed regarding reproductive health services. LGBTQI+ activists reported that members of the community were able to provide informed consent before receiving reproductive health treatment. LGBTQI+ activists also reported that police officers carried out forced anal examinations against some members of the LGBTQI+ community (see section 1.c. and section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)
Local media and human rights activists reported that cultural practices in some remote areas impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services. On May 21, local media reported that some women in Amudat District complained that their husbands prevented them from accessing reproductive health services because they wanted to have as many children as possible. Human rights activists reported the COVID-19 lockdown led to closure of some reproductive health service providers and prevented many women from accessing reproductive health services. The activists also reported that women in remote areas where there were few health-care providers found it difficult to access reproductive health information. LGBTQI+ activists reported that some public health officials declined to provide health services, including reproductive health services, to LGBTQI+ persons.
Human rights activists reported that some police Family and Child Protection units often ran out of postexposure prophylaxis for rape survivors and many public health-care facilities lacked emergency contraception medication.
Maternal mortality was 375 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and local civil society organizations. Media attributed the high rate to a lack of access to skilled medical care for pregnant women, a preference for traditional birth attendants over skilled medical workers, and unsafe abortions. Human rights activists reported that travel restrictions to combat COVID-19 prevented many women, especially in remote areas, from accessing neonatal and prenatal health care. According to the WHO, adolescent birth rates were high, at 111.4 per 1,000 girls for the period 2011 to 2020. According to human rights activists and the WHO, statutory rape, child sexual exploitation, a high rate of school dropouts that led to and was also caused by teenage pregnancies, limited knowledge of contraception among teenagers, and school closures due to COVID-19 countermeasures were among the causes.
There were social and cultural barriers related to menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene that impacted girls’ ability to participate equally in society including many limits on girls’ access to education. Local media reported many girls lacked access to menstrual hygiene materials, including sanitary towels. This caused many to suffer stigmatization and bullying, which led many to drop out of school. Local media and child rights activists reported that girls who became pregnant while in school almost always dropped out of school. According to child rights activists, public and private schools dismissed and declined to readmit girls who became pregnant while in school. On March 26, local media reported that the government had adopted a new policy directing that all girls who become pregnant while in school would undergo mandatory maternity leave at three months of the pregnancy and would return to school six months after delivery. The new policy also directed that a boy responsible for the pregnancy would simultaneously drop out of school until the girl returned. The government also advised that girls change school after giving birth to avoid stigmatization (see section 6, Children).
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Human rights activists 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, widowed women cannot own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men can “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.
The law prohibits discrimination and violence on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, origin, social or economic standing, political opinion, and disability, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Opposition politicians and local media reported that security officers and vigilantes associated with the second deputy prime minister, General Moses Ali from the Madi ethnic community, continued harassing and evicting members of the Acholi community from disputed land in Apaa Village in the northern part of the country so he could establish a private game reserve. On August 11, local media reported that the military had arrested 48 individuals accused of attacking Acholi residents in Apaa with bows and arrows and machetes and burning Acholi homes, before releasing 31 and handing 17 over to police. On August 13, President Museveni announced that he had set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the land dispute, but the commission had not shared its findings by year’s end.
Some indigenous minorities continued to accuse the government of marginalization that excluded them from participating in decisions affecting their livelihood. Civil society organizations reported the government continued in its refusal to compensate the Batwa people, whom it displaced from lands it designated as forest reserves. On August 20, the Constitutional Court ruled that the government had “disadvantaged and marginalized” the Batwa community by evicting them from their native land without compensation. The Constitutional Court ordered a lower court to determine the Batwa community’s due compensation and ordered the government to recognize that the Batwa had a lawful claim to the land and to compensate them within 12 months. On September 11, local media reported that the government had appealed the Constitutional Court’s ruling to the Supreme Court, which had yet to hear the appeal by year’s end.
Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born inside or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children younger than age 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, especially those in urban centers, required birth certificates for enrollment. Enrollment in public secondary schools, universities, and other tertiary institutions required birth certificates.
Education: The law provides for compulsory education through the completion of primary school by age 13, and the government provided tuition-free education 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, and many parents could not afford such expenses. Local media and civil society organizations reported that child, early, and forced marriages and teenage pregnancy led to a higher rate of school dropouts for girls than for boys (see section 6, Women). Local media, private school proprietors, opposition politicians, and activists reported that government efforts to provide virtual learning to children during a school closure as part of measures to fight COVID-19, including providing lessons on broadcast media and printing classwork in the newspapers, denied children from poor backgrounds the opportunity to learn as their families could not afford radios or printed materials. Opposition politicians and child rights activists also reported that some schools switched to online classes during the closure, which denied learning opportunities to children whose parents could not afford internet connections.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits numerous forms of child abuse and provides monetary fines, five years’ imprisonment, or both for persons convicted of abusing children’s rights. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a cash or in-kind payment. Corporal punishment in schools is illegal. The law also provides for protection of 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, and child labor, among other abuses. Traditional healers (witch doctors) kidnapped and killed children to use their organs for ancestral worship. Child rights activists 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. Child rights activists reported that COVID-19-related school closures led to an increase in child abuse incidents in homes and communities, especially through the increased use of beatings as a disciplinary measure, child neglect, and child sexual exploitation. The government operated a tollfree helpline to which it encouraged survivors and witnesses of child abuse to call and report.
The Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed group of Ugandan origin operating in the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, continued to hold children against their will.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce this law. Child marriages were prevalent and became even more so during school closures introduced as a measure to address COVID-19. According to UNICEF in 2017, 40 percent of girls were married before age 18 and 10 percent were married before age 15. According to local media reports, local government officials blamed families and some community leaders for concealing child marriage cases, which they supported as a cultural practice. Numerous government officials in the central and local governments regularly joined efforts led by child rights activists and cultural leaders to speak out and sensitize communities against child marriages. District probation officers at local governments also supported efforts led by child rights activists to rescue children from forced marriages and keep them in shelters before their gradual reintegration into communities.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, the sale and procurement of sexual services, and practices related to child pornography. It sets the minimum age for consensual sex at 18 years. The law defines “statutory rape” as any sexual contact outside marriage with a child younger than 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however, and the problem was pervasive. Child rights activists reported that as many teenage students turned to online lessons after school closures, cases of online sexual exploitation increased. Local media and child rights activists also reported that despite bans on bars operating, some bar owners continued to operate clandestinely and exploited children in sex trafficking.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Local media reported that intersex children were at high risk of infanticide and that some parents of children with disabilities abandoned them in the bush or threw them in pit latrines to die. Local media also reported numerous incidents of killings of children for use in ancestral worship. The law criminalizes infanticide or infanticide of children with disabilities, but authorities sporadically enforced the law.
Displaced Children: Local civil society organizations and media reported that poverty and famine drove families in the remote northeast Karamoja region to send many children to Kampala to find work and beg on the streets. Civil society organizations reported that traffickers often manipulated families in Karamoja to sell their children to traffickers for 50,000 shillings ($13.90) with promises the children would obtain a good education or a profitable job. Instead, traffickers forced the children to beg on the streets of Kampala or other major cities and gave them almost none of what they earned. Kampala City authorities worked with civil society organizations to return Karamojong street children to their families, but often the families soon returned the children to the streets because families partly depended on the children’s collections to maintain their households. Local media and child rights activists also reported increased numbers of children living on the streets in other towns, such as Mbale, Lira, and Gulu, where a lack of rehabilitation facilities frustrated local government efforts to remove the children from the streets.
Institutionalized Children: Police announced on November 22 that they had shut down several children’s shelters where they rescued more than 90 children whom ISIS-DRC supporters were attempting to radicalize.
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/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish population had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking in-persons-report/.
Police, local media, and activists reported that organized criminal groups carried out organ harvesting. Police reported that some workers who signed up with labor recruitment companies to work in the Middle East and Gulf State countries had their organs, especially kidneys and liver, harvested.
Persons with disabilities could not access education and health services on an equal basis with others. According to disability rights activists, persons with disabilities lacked equitable access to public buildings and transportation. They reported that many public schools, hospitals, and courts of law, among other public buildings, lacked ramps to enable access for persons with disabilities. The law provides for access on an equal basis 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. After criticism from persons with disabilities, the government’s information office, Uganda Media Centre, during the year employed a sign language interpreter whenever public officers used the office to make official communications.
Local media reported that some local government officials harassed persons with disabilities. On September 8, local media reported that local government officials at Rukungiri District evicted persons with disabilities from their land to build an industrial park and relocated them to a plot of land with hilly terrain, which they found difficult to access. The Rukungiri district chief administrative officer dismissed the claims and instead accused some persons with disabilities of trying to steal the contested land.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Local media and activists for persons with disabilities reported that persons with disabilities experienced social prejudice and discrimination in social service delivery and in access to public spaces. Disability rights activists reported government requirements for every person to wear a face mask as part of its public health regulations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 discriminated against deaf persons, who needed sign language – often accompanied by mouthing words – to communicate.
Local media reported that some local government officials in Masaka City demanded kickbacks from persons with disabilities in order to include them as beneficiaries of a livelihood fund. According to local media, in 2020 the government created a fund to provide five million shillings ($1,410) in seed capital grants to groups of persons with disabilities, but some government officials demanded as much as 70 percent of the total in kickbacks. The Masaka resident city commissioner instructed police to investigate the allegations, but police had not released their findings by year’s end.
According to the latest Ministry of Education statistics, 2 percent of elementary school students were children with disabilities while the rate in secondary schools was 0.6 percent. Local media reported some parents of children with disabilities hid them from the public out of shame, while some physically restrained their children by tethering them to tree trunks.
Local civil society organizations reported the government neither ran any support programming for persons with albinism nor tried to establish the number of those with albinism or their concerns. Local media also reported that persons with albinism complained that some government officials left out persons with albinism when selecting beneficiaries to receive farming inputs, such as seedlings and animals, as part of official agricultural subsidy programs.
While the law gives persons with disabilities the right to elect members of their community as local government and legislative representatives, some candidates reported that late delivery of voting materials as well as missing voter registers on polling day led to delays, which frustrated community members and discouraged them from voting.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, discrimination and stigma were common and inhibited these persons from obtaining treatment and support. Local civil society organizations reported the stigma resulted from limited public knowledge regarding the methods of HIV transmission as well as “the belief that living with HIV is shameful.” Civil society organizations reported that stigma pushed persons with HIV to exclude themselves from social services and employment opportunities, including care programs. Local media and civil society organizations reported numerous incidents of parents who abandoned children with HIV and of persons, particularly men, who abandoned spouses with HIV. Police, the prisons service, and the military regularly refused to recruit persons with HIV and AIDS, claiming their bodies would be too weak for the rigorous training and subsequent deployment. According to local media, most employers declined to employ persons with HIV as domestic workers.
In cooperation with the government, international and local NGOs sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV and AIDS. Government and HIV and AIDS counselors encouraged the population to test for and share information concerning HIV and AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV and AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities incited, perpetrated, and tolerated violence against LGBTQI+ individuals and blocked some meetings organized by LGBTQI+ persons and activists. On May 31, police officers raided the Happy Family Youth Uganda LGBTQI+ shelter in Wakiso District outside Kampala and arrested 44 individuals – 36 men and 8 women – celebrating what was alleged to be a gay engagement ceremony. Amateur video footage recorded at the scene showed a plainclothes police officer verbally abusing and mocking the detainees. Police announced that it would charge the individuals with “a negligent act likely to spread an infectious disease” for disobeying COVID-19 restrictions. On June 1, however, a police doctor subjected some of the detainees to forced anal examinations. On June 7, a court released the detainees on bail, and the court dismissed the case in November.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is criminalized according to a colonial-era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Attempts to “commit unnatural offences,” as laid out in the law, are punishable with seven years’ imprisonment. The government occasionally enforced the law.
Local media and LGBTQI+ organizations reported that some hospitals and religious institutions offered and subjected LGBTQI+ persons to conversion therapy. Local media also reported that intersex children were at a high risk of infanticide.
Although the law does not restrict freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly for those speaking out in support of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, the government severely restricted such rights.
The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services.
Local civil society organizations reported that public and private health-care services turned away LGBTQI+ persons who sought medication and some health-care providers led community members to beat LGBTQI+ persons who sought health care. Local civil society organizations reported that some LGBTQI+ persons needed to pay bribes to public health-care providers before they received treatment.
Mob violence was prevalent. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in police and the judiciary to deliver justice. They attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, homicide, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. On August 30, local media reported that a mob in Fort Portal Town killed a man by cutting off his head after they found him with a stolen chicken. Police stated they would investigate the killing but did not reveal any findings by year’s end.