11 March 2013

Uganda: 'Love Potion' Was Instead Poison

It was her first relationship and the experience was all bliss and romance for the 15-year-old. The object of her affection was a 26-year-old resident of Kamwenge.

Determined to keep him all to herself, she sought help from superiors who told her the solution was 'in the bottle'. She ended up opting for a love potion.

After a round of sex in the bush, she timed her well-orchestrated moment and fed her lover the potion mixed in a soda.

The look of love, which she anticipated from her lover after administering the potion, turned into a moment of horror. Moments after the boyfriend drank the soda, he collapsed and started gasping for breath.

Terrified, she fled the scene. His body was discovered in the bush after two days. She was arrested by the Police after villagers who used to see her in the company of the deceased, suspected her of poisoning him.

The woman, who gave her the love potion, has since disappeared. The misguided teenage is currently detained at Fort Portal Remand Home. She blames her neighbour for poisoning her man and maintains innocence.

"The lady gave me the herbs to seduce my boyfriend so that he loves me more. I mixed the herbs in soda and gave my boyfriend to drink. Little did I know that she had given me poison to kill my man," the remorseful Judith says.

The case, which was brought before the Chief Magistrate's Court in Fort Portal for mentioning, has been committed to the High Court. She, however, remains innocent unless a competent court of jurisdiction finds her guilty of the offence.

For young people, a criminal record is synonymous with a future without hope. A former pupil of Kamwenge Primary School, the girl, who is the only female among 33 male offenders at the detention facility, has had to abandon studies.

She has had no visitors since she was arrested. Her relatives live in Kamwenge, but none of them has visited her in jail for lack of knowledge about her whereabouts. Worse still, her old mother lacks the means to look for her.

Offenders in remand homes

According to the youth and children affairs state minister, Ronald Kibuule, the gender ministry currently accommodates 611 child offenders within its five remand homes countrywide.

Naguru Remand Home accommodates 150 child offenders, Naguru Resettlement accommodates 147 juveniles, Fort Portal Remand Home accommodates 34, Mbale Remand Home 30, while Kampiringisa rehabilitation centre accommodates 250 juveniles, of which 120 are convicts while the rest are still on remand.

Kibuule says remand homes were established to ensure that juveniles are not detained with adults in prison because this is a violation of their rights, adding that they provide care and protection to children in conflict with the law from the hostile communities.

However, in the management of remand homes, the Government finds challenges with age verification. Some children, because of their physical build up, are mistaken to be adults and detained in prisons since medical verification takes time to have the age verified.

Martha Kampire, the probation and welfare officer at Fort Portal Remand Home, says on average, the number of juveniles admitted within a year ranges from 80 to 100, with 98% being boys. She says the most common crime is defilement.

She adds that the facility has a number of programmes for the rehabilitation of the juveniles, which include psychosocial support, life skills development, poultry farming and gardening.

Kampire, however, explains that the remand home has limited skills development facilities and recommends for handcrafts, tailoring and cosmetology, in particular hair dressing, to help equip the children with practical skills, which can benefit them upon discharge.

"Juveniles committed to the High Court in most cases overstay on remand. Currently, we have some who have stayed for over eight months, which affects them psychologically," Kampire says.

What the law says

John Ssenyonga, the deputy executive director Defence for Children International, says the Children's Act stipulates that it should take not more than 12 hours for a child offender to be produced in court and restricts detention of more than six months for a child who commits a capital offence and three months for a minor offence.

Ssenyonga, however, stresses that some of the juveniles spend more time on remand, contrary to the Children's Act.

"Since they are not sentenced, juveniles are forced to stay in prison indefinitely while waiting for the minister's orders, which may take long, exposing them to psychological breakdown because there is no period predetermined for them to stay in remand homes," the director explains.

For instance, if a child is detained for a year and does not attend school, they are losing a future. By the time they are discharged, they would have lost interest in studying and may end up on the streets.

Ssenyonga says the current justice system is not friendly to a child, which psychologically affects child offenders. He appeals to the Government to establish independent courts to handle juvenile cases, hence reduce the backlog within the ordinary courts of law.

The Government should ensure that the courts have a "child friendly environment" so that offenders are free to express themselves during trial.

"Unlike prisons where Government provides inmates with formal education, remand homes have limited access to education. As a result, they are locked up without training to keep them in school," Ssenyonga observes.

More services needed

Ssenyonga points out that lack of correctional services in remand homes has affected the life of children who happen to be in conflict with the law, yet such amenities are critical to ensure that juveniles reform and become responsible citizens upon discharge.

He mentions educational programmes, craft making projects and recreational centres among the facilities child offenders require to ensure that they reform and gain employment when released.

During a Justice for Children's conference held at the Speke Resort Munyonyo last year, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, raised concern over lack of special facilities for juveniles with disabilities in remand homes.

The affirmative action recommends for public institutions to put up structures to cater for people with disabilities.

"However, despite the affirmative action, structures within remand homes lack facilities to cater for children who find themselves in conflict with the law, but are also faced with disability," Oulanyah observes.

Oulanyah also called for sign language experts to be attached to the remand homes as well as the courts to ensure that they interpret court proceeding to the offenders with hearing impairment, so that deaf juveniles access justice.

Prossy Nanziri, a mother to one of the child offenders, says she hopes and prays that her son will be released from the remand home.

"He has grown and deserves freedom. He left me at the age of 12, but whenever I visit the remand home, I feel I do not want to leave because that is still my baby, although he is 13 years old now," she laments.

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