22 April 2011

Uganda: Our Prisons Violate Rights of Children, Women


The Uganda Prisons Service is mandated under the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 (Articles 215- 217) and the Prisons Act 2006 to provide safe custody to offenders and rehabilitate them. The Uganda Prisons Service is one of 13 institutions that have been brought together under the Justice, Law and Order Sector wide approach to enhance planning and budgeting capacity so as to improve access to justice. The sector has outlined its mission as to "enable all people in Uganda to live in a safe and just society" .

The Uganda Prisons Services is further situated within the overarching Poverty Eradication framework of the Government of Uganda which is articulated in the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP 2004). Uganda Prisons Services directly contributes to the attainment of Pillars 2, 3 and 4 of the PEAP (Production, Competitiveness, and incomes, Good Governance, and Human Development respectively).

These promises are within the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Recently, I happened to look at the condition of women and children in one of the prisons in northern Uganda, I had some dialogue with the women on the reasons why they were in prisons; 50 per cent of the women are on capital offences, 80 per cent of them have been on remand for more than two years. All of the female prisoners in the facility had been on remand for way longer than the stipulated time. Those who were within the time-frame were only there because they were arrested in the past week.

According to the Constitution, the maximum amount of time one is supposed to be detained before the commencement of one's trial is 60 days for minor crimes and 180 for capital crimes.

There seems to be a big problem with the judicial system which is under-funded and over stressed. People rot in jail while the Department of Public Prosecution tries and fails to gather evidence for the case to proceed. At the most extreme, there was one detainee who has spent over three years on remand and came with a baby, gave birth to twins in jail; because she happened to have come with the pregnancy and still awaiting trial.

In Uganda if you are pregnant or have a young baby when you are arrested; you go with your young baby in jail or your child is born in prison and serves out the sentence with you. There is the option of taking a two-year-old child out of the detention centre for people who have responsible guardians.

The prisons condition and environment are not conducive for the children; most of them do not have play materials and have to be locked in the prisons compound with no access to education facilities or socialisation centres. The female section offers very minimal opportunity for children to learn. The children sometimes cannot be taken back to their village as their safety is compromised sometimes because of the alleged crimes committed by their mothers.

Their right to education, to play and privacy is simply being violated. The government could try out a number of interventions to protect these women and children. Ensure that mothers do not stay on remand beyond the mandated time, address the justice system to get rid of selective prosecution where the rich and powerful people even get bail for murder and yet the poor women and children cannot get bail.

The second thing the government needs to do is initiate certain livelihood activities for women in prisons, e.g. poultry keeping, knitting, and bakery, etc, so that the women have income even if they are prisoners and can have alternative environments for their children outside prisons.

Mr Ogwal works for a child development agency

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