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Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty. 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. The 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) reported women were more than twice as likely as men to experience sexual violence. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often committed by persons in positions of authority, including police officers, employers, local government leaders, religious leaders, teachers, and soldiers. In many rape cases, the perpetrator also killed the victim.

According to the NGO Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), incidents of rape and statutory rape were not commonly reported, in part due to societal factors. Parents, husbands, local leaders, religious leaders, police, prosecutors, and sometimes courts pressured victims to settle cases out of court, supposedly to “spare” the victim and her family from the social stigmatization. Of the cases brought to trial, few were completed.

Gender-based violence (GBV) was also common. The UPF recorded 163 deaths of women due to domestic violence in 2016, almost a 50 percent increase from 2010. International NGO FHI 360 reported in April that cultural factors fueled GBV. Its study found that 54 percent of women said it was acceptable for a husband to beat his wife if she cheated on him, and 21 percent said it was acceptable for a husband to beat his wife if she denied him sex.

FIDA reported it worked with the judiciary to organize two weeks of special court sessions between November and December 2016 focused solely on GBV cases in eight districts in northern and eastern areas. The sessions concluded 326 GBV cases. On June 20, the World Bank announced a $40 million (144 billion shillings) loan to the government to implement its 2016 Elimination of Gender Based Violence Policy. The loan, for which a memorandum of understanding was signed in October, focused on promoting behavioral change to prevent GBV and improving referral mechanisms and assistance services for GBV victims.

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 February 2016, 1 percent of women under age 50 had undergone FGM/C. Local NGOs reported that many girls who had undergone FGM/C were discouraged from delivering in health centers to avoid revealing they had been cut.

On May 15, the UPF told local media that it conducted a radio campaign to raise communities’ awareness of the dangers of FGM/C. Local NGOs Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) and Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda (LAW) reported that the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development worked with civil society organizations to train UPF and judiciary personnel on FGM/C practices and how to handle such cases.

On May 30, local media reported the UPF had insufficient resources to monitor adequately the remote areas of the northeast where FGM/C was prevalent, which allowed many practitioners to continue working with impunity. DENIVA and LAW reported the absence of courts in Amudat and Kween Districts and a shortage of clinics that could provide medical evidence made it difficult to prosecute perpetrators. Local NGOs conducted training for practitioners in communities where FGM/C was prevalent to encourage them to end the practice.

According to Deniva, the government also built an unspecified number of girls-only boarding schools in northeastern and eastern areas 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 paid traditional healers to sacrifice children to ensure their continued wealth and then bribed police officers to stop the investigations. On February 6, local media reported that the UPF arrested traditional healer Godfrey Lukeera in the South after security forces found the mutilated body of a five-year-old boy at his shrine. The state charged Lukeera with murder on March 8 and remanded him to Masaka Prison. 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. FIDA reported that most women declined to report sexual harassment due to fear of social stigmatization, and that those who did report it tended only to do so in conjunction with other violations. According to FIDA, the UPF recorded 548 cases of sexual harassment from January through March.

Local media and civil society also reported that the UPF often refused to investigate accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace or educational institutions. Most of these cases involved supervisors or teachers exploiting their authority; other cases were between peers.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men. 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. 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 under the age of 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children under 18 adopted by citizens.

The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. According to the 2011 DHS, only 29 percent of rural and 38 percent of urban births were registered. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services. Some primary schools, however, 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: Child abuse remained a common problem, including sexual assault, physical abuse, ritual killings, early marriage, human trafficking, drug and substance abuse, involvement in social unrest, and forced engagement in criminal activities. The Uganda Child Helpline received 1,607 reports of children’s rights violations from January through June, with denial of education being the most prevalent, followed by statutory rape and child marriage.

The law defines “statutory rape” as any sexual contact outside marriage with a child under 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 minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

The government continued to work with UNICEF and NGOs–including Save the Children, Child Fund, 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.

Corporal punishment was illegal but remained a problem in schools and sometimes resulted in serious injuries. The 2015 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.

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. UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Childrenreport estimated that 10 percent of girls married before age 15 and 40 percent before age 18. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development reported that from January through June, it annulled 35 child marriages and stopped five from taking place. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, the sale and procurement of sexual services, and practices related to child pornography. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however, and the problem was pervasive.

Child Soldiers: The Lord’s Resistance Army continued to hold Ugandans, including children, against their will beyond Uganda’s borders.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The Uganda Child Helpline received two reports of infanticide from January through June.

Displaced Children: Families in the remote North East Karamoja Region sent many children to Kampala during the dry season to find work and beg on the streets. Authorities worked with civil society organizations to return Karamojong street children to their families. Local media, however, reported that police often found those same children back on Kampala’s streets soon thereafter.

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. The local NGO Uganda Child’s Rights Network reported that some juvenile detention centers in the east denied their inmates the right to education.

By regulations an approved orphanage “shall only receive children in an emergency from a police officer or under an interim care order from a judge.” All approved homes are required to keep proper accounts, employ a qualified warden and registered nurse, keep health records for each child, provide adequate sleeping facilities, and provide for an appropriate education. Nevertheless, the government lacked the resources to register and monitor orphanages.

In 2015 the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development estimated there were more than 50,000 children in approximately 1,000 orphanages, of which only 83 were licensed 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


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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law provides for access to all buildings “where the public is invited,” and information and communications for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The Equal Opportunities Commission reported in February that most public buildings in Kampala were inaccessible to persons with disabilities, due to a lack of ramps or elevators.

Persons with disabilities faced societal discrimination, limited job and educational opportunities, and most schools did not accommodate persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development and the National Council on Disability were the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Local media reported most schools did not make accommodations for students with disabilities. Local media said that due to discriminatory behavior by students and teachers, a lack of trained special education teachers, and limited specialized learning resources, children with disabilities were often absent from school.

The National Union for Disabled Persons of Uganda, media, and government officials said there was insufficient government funding for welfare programs for persons with disabilities. Due to continued decreases in government funding for training “Special Needs Education” teachers, the Ministry of Education certified seven new teachers in 2016, compared with approximately 30 per year a decade before. The Ministry of Education’s principal officer for inclusive education stated that, despite funding limitations, the government provided an additional two to three million shillings ($550-$825) each quarter to schools known to have children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were reports of violence among ethnic groups over land, grazing rights, water access, border demarcations, and other matters. On June 9, local media reported that unidentified individuals attacked members of the Acholi and Madi communities living in Apaa, killing nine persons with poison arrows. Local leaders said businesspersons hired the attackers to scare the residents off disputed ancestral land in order to claim it for themselves. The government deployed the UPDF and UPF to Apaa to stop the violence, and the Prime Minister’s Office donated food to the communities. Local government officials and traditional, civil society, and religious leaders criticized the government’s response as inadequate and accused it of tacitly supporting the businesspersons.

On April 29, opposition politicians asserted the UPDF and UPF hired only members of ethnic groups from the southwest, where the president is from, for senior positions, discriminating against other ethnic groups (see section 7). The UPDF denied any discrimination in recruitment and stated that all of its officers possessed the requisite qualifications for their assignments. In a May newspaper editorial, however, a government spokesperson criticized the UPF for ethnic discrimination in recruitment, deployment, and promotions, which “threatens to erode the (UPF’s) constitutional requirement of being national in character and composition.”

Indigenous People

The local NGO Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) reported that ethnic minorities did not participate in political leadership and decision-making processes affecting them. The CCFU reported that by year’s end, the government had not yet resettled the Batwa and Benet communities it had displaced from ancestral land claiming its actions were in the national interest, leaving them effectively landless and unable to maintain their livelihoods. In August the CCFU reported the 160-person Batwa community, which the government displaced to create a forest reserve in a western area in 1992, lived on two acres of land, in semipermanent buildings with inadequate sanitary facilities. The government displaced the Benet from their land in 1983 to create a forest reserve. The CCFU reported that although the High Court ruled in 2005 that the Benet could return to their land, authorities had not yet allowed them to do so.

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. LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, societal harassment, violence, and intimidation.

The HRAPF reported numerous incidents of societal and government-led harassment and violence against LGBTI persons. Between February and April, the HRAPF reported 11 cases in which attackers physically assaulted persons because of suspicions they were LGBTI individuals. In one case a mob doused a suspected LGBTI person with gasoline and set him on fire before police rescued him. The HRAPF also reported 14 cases of police arresting persons on suspicion of being LGBTI. In five of these cases, police officers conducted forced anal examinations on the detainees. In August government pressure forced the LGBTI community to cancel its annual Pride Week. Officials threatened to arrest anyone who participated in Pride Week activities and coerced the Sheraton Hotel to cancel the opening gala the morning of the event.

Sexual Minorities Uganda’s (SMUG) 2016 suit against the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) stalled because the judiciary transferred the judge handling the case but did not reassign it to another judge. SMUG had sued the URSB in 2016 for rejecting its application to reserve a name under which SMUG could officially register. The case continued at year’s end.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was common and inhibited these persons from obtaining treatment and support. In cooperation with the government, international and local NGOs sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS counselors encouraged clients to be tested and share information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.

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.

HIV/AIDS-infected persons faced discrimination in employment, and some reported having been fired because of their HIV status. According to local media, some employers forced their staff and job applicants to undergo HIV tests and dismissed those who tested positive. On July 26, local media reported that Chinese construction company China Communications Construction Company, a contractor on multiple government infrastructure projects, forced its staff to take an HIV test and then fired two persons who tested positive. The two staff sued the company for wrongful dismissal and the health center for violating their right to personal privacy. The case continued at year’s end.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence remained a problem. Mobs attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, murder, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in the UPF and judiciary to deliver justice. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. On July 7, local media reported that a mob in the eastern part of the country stoned a 17-year-old boy to death for allegedly stealing a goat. The police had yet to arrest any suspects by year’s end.

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