Uganda: Lockdown Worsens Plight of Child-Headed Families

Nancy and her family of five live in Aburokango Village, Atekiber Parish, Nambieso Sub-county, Kwania District.

The 15-year-old, who is living with HIV/Aids, fends for the rest of the family members through digging for neighbours in exchange for food to feed her disabled mother, three sisters and one brother.

Their father succumbed to an HIV/Aids-related illness in 2017, and their mother, just like the rest of the children, is also living with HIV/Aids.

As the eldest in the family, Nancy dropped out of school in 2017 to fend for her siblings.

Humphrey Ogwang, a clinical officer at Nambieso Health Centre III, says relatives have neglected the children simply because of their HIV status.

"The most stressing challenge the family faces is food. They cannot engage in any productive activity to sustain the family," Ogwang says, adding that because of biting poverty, the children have been skipping some treatment.

This family is not alone. Lucky, 12, and Basil, 8, live alone in a dilapidated grass-thatched hut.

Their mother died due to an HIV/Aids-related illness in 2011. Their mother died before showing them their father or any paternal relative since both of them were born at their mother's home.

The orphaned children were left under the care of their only grandmother, who also died on April 24.

"Grandmother died recently leaving us without anything in the house and nobody is supporting us. With this coronavirus lockdown, we might starve to death," Lucky, a Primary Five pupil at Acwa Primary School in Nambieso Sub-county, says.

Like thousands of child-headed households in Uganda, this family at Acwa A Village, Nambieso Sub-county in Kwania District, lacks many basic necessities such as food, clothing, and beddings.

Just like Lucky, Alex, 14, is in charge of providing support to his other brother, Felix. Alex is a casual worker in the neighbourhood.

The children, who live in dilapidated structures at Tarogali Village, Tarogali Parish, Ibuje Sub-county in Apac District, were orphaned as a result of domestic violence. Their mother, Sylvia, killed their father, Moses, following a domestic brawl in 2016.

Sylvia was found guilty of manslaugheter and was sentenced to 18 years in prison, leaving behind their seven children.

Child rights activists say children in child-headed households face a serious threat to their right to education because of poverty, difficulty in obtaining food and shelter.

These vulnerable children are also at a high risk of being sexually abused by either relatives or neighbours.

"They face difficulties in accessing medication, especially those on anti-retroviral (ARVs) treatment because they cannot easily move long distances for their refills. They are most likely to experience property grabbing by families and communities," says child protection specialist Hamza Okello Ogole.

Ogole calls upon local leaders to ensure they monitor the situation of these children.

"They should ensure that appropriate livelihood social support mechanisms are in place to protect vulnerable children and link them to service providers who can support them," he adds.

Caesar Alaju, a former chairperson of Bala Sub-county in Kole District, says with the increasing levels of poverty in the country, raising a family is becoming difficult for many parents. However, he says it is even worse for single mothers and child-headed families struggling to make ends meet.

Ms Josephine Omara Olili, the Alebtong Resident District Commissioner (RDC), acknowledges that little is being done to support extremely vulnerable people, including the orphans, the elderly, HIV/Aids patients and child-headed households.

"People living with HIV/Aids, cancer patients and child-headed households can barely afford a meal in a day. We are calling upon those with something to donate to the Covid-19 taskforces to do so such that we support such people in our communities," Ms Olili says.

Due to the countrywide lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19, many people are struggling to find enough food each day. The most affected are the extremely vulnerable individuals such as child-headed households.

Background

More than 13 million children in Uganda live under unbearable conditions, according to the National Population and Housing Census 2014.

Of the 7.2 million households in the country, about 28,800 are child-headed and face severe financial constraints that quite often push them to drug and substance abuse, transactional sex and involvement in crime.

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