Civil society concerned at limited knowledge of the offence A spike in cases of paedophilia in Uganda has triggered an expanded police investigation targeting a racket of people suspected to be selling young girls for sexual pleasure. The racket, the police suspect, is based in Kampala with contacts upcountry.
The Commissioner for the Special Investigations Unit, Beata Chelimo, says they are looking into this matter, but she was non-committal on the details, only admitting that the net has been "cast wider than before."
The investigation went into overdrive upon the arrest of a Chinese national, Yang Zheng Zun alias Li Wing Yang, two weeks ago. Zheng Zun, who has been remanded after being charged with aggravated defilement, defilement and trafficking in persons, is the second foreigner to face such charges this year, after Macedonia's Emin Baro.
Yang, who claims to be a businessman exporting fish, has been hiring people to procure girls as young as 10 years, for him to satisfy his sexual pleasure. Two of the many girls he slept with tested HIV-positive, although Yang himself is HIV-negative.
Yang's luck ran out when one of his victims, a 10-year - old girl, singled him out at Old Kampala Police Station. The police suspect that Yang had eluded the law by bribing some police officers.
"At Old Kampala, he seemed to know everyone," a police detective said.
The girl, only identified as Cathy since she is a minor, accidently ran into her defiler at Old Kampala Police station, as he went about his business.
"The minute she saw him walk into the station, she felt uneasy. Suddenly she wanted to pee. She went into shock. You could tell that she was traumatised," the detective told us. Yang had slept with Cathy several times, which is how she was able to identify him.
According to police, Yang had sex with Cathy for several weeks, either in his one-roomed residence in Lusaze, Lungujja, or a nearby hotel. On one night, he repeatedly had sex with her and she bled profusely through her private parts and collapsed.
A panicked Yang bundled her into a car and returned her to Faith Lumbasi, a family friend. Lumbasi sent the girl back to her parents in Gulu. Back in Gulu, Cathy narrated her traumatic ordeal. Police opened a case file for the parents, who were referred to Old Kampala in the company of a child activist.
And that is how Cathy, the child activist and her parents ended up at Old Kampala Police Station where Yang's luck ran out when she positively identified him as her defiler. With Yang in police custody, Cathy led the detectives to the one-roomed house in Lusaze where she had stayed for months. They found at least seven other girls, all being used as sex slaves. The detectives were shocked by the scene in the house.
"We found condoms, cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. It only confirmed one thing; that Yang could be a psycho," one of them said.
Yang was charged with two other people, Lumbasi and Flavia Anina, at the Buganda Road court. They were all remanded to Luzira prison thereafter, pending their trial in the High court.
Lumbasi and Anina are accused of luring Cathy from her home in Gulu with promises of a good life in Kampala, only to hand her over to Yang. Yang's story is not very different from Macedonian Emin Baro, who lured Ugandan underage girls to perform oral sex on him.
Baro was only arrested after he returned to pick up a compact disc filled with lewd pictures and video that he had forgotten in an internet café in Jinja. Child activists believe that the paedophilia problem is bigger as many incidents go unreported after family members prefer to settle matters "amicably", normally involving small monetary compensation.
Peter Bahemuka, the senior programme officer at Raising Voices, says procuring underage girls for sex is an evil that needs to be curbed immediately.
"The fact that someone can procure girls is a symptom of a bigger problem. Economic pressures are forcing people to sell girls for sex and this is unacceptable," Bahemuka said. He urged the public to take extra care in protecting children from sexual predators.
Isaac Arinaitwe, an advocacy officer with Platform for Labour Action, agrees with Bahemuka and adds that the problem is not getting the attention it needs. He said foreigners are targeting Uganda, aware that policing here is either too lax or takes the offence lightly.
"If you look at the police crime report, you realise that it is such a widespread problem but there are very few constables or officers in the police who understand this offence," Arinaitwe said.
The current annual crime report shows that 7,542 defilement cases were reported to the police last year. Of these, eastern region reported the most cases at 1,554, followed by south-eastern region at 1,410 cases, with the northern region where Cathy came from reporting 672 cases.
In the same police report, some 39 foreign nationals were accused of defilement, with DR Congo providing the highest number of culprits at 11, followed by Rwanda at nine.
There were also 38 members of the armed forces accused of defilement - with the majority, 14, coming from the police force, followed by private security groups.
The crime report lists defilement as the second most common crime in the country after assaults.
Arinaitwe is concerned that apart from those in the National Taskforce on Trafficking and a few at police headquarters in Kampala, the rest of the policemen and women are only aware of the basic offence of defilement but not the related offence of trafficking.
"If you go to Old Kampala Police Station, where the child and family section of the police is based, you will find a lot of children who were brought in from upcountry. The police can't even afford to send them back; so, they house them in one of the abandoned taxis at the station," he said.
The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), an NGO looking after children's rights, has documented 682 cases of defilement in just 10 districts since January, and just like PLA, they call for urgent education about this offence.
Under the penal code, aggravated defilement is punishable by life imprisonment if the victims are above the age of 10, but the offender could also be sentenced to death, if the victim is below five years.