By Abalo Irene Otto
Gulu district recently hosted the Northern Regional Child Forum on the theme, “Our Children, Our Future” organized by the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development to call for action to internalize the National Community Development Policy in Uganda 2015.
It is an effort to initiate the process to put into practice some of the policy priority areas that affect the wellbeing of the Ugandan child.
During the forum, a situation analysis of children in Uganda by Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development and UNICEF 2015 was presented which reveals that over 56% of the population is below the age of 18 and over 78% are under the age of 35 years.
However, according to the document, 167,000 children under five in Uganda still die every year.
Under nutrition is an underlying cause of death in 40% of children in the country.
Statistics from the Situation Analysis also indicate that there is great disparity between children in different parts of the country between those living in Rural and urban areas. Children living in rural Uganda are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than those in urban areas.
“Children aged 0-8 years are particularly vulnerable, especially if they live in the rural north of the country or are from poor families and, even more so, if they live in female headed households or are orphaned or disabled. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable because they are most likely to be poor, marry early and miss out on secondary education.” Reads part of the analysis.
According to Santos Okot Lapolo, Gulu Resident District Commissioner, Government of Uganda needs to implement the existing child laws that protect children’s wellbeing in Uganda.
Lapolo says that policy priority areas in the country should focus on the wellbeing of the child and include them in respective organizational Development Plans in the country.
He adds that commitment to the set laws and policies under review will help to significantly enable children to contribute to the country’s socio-economic future.
“I expect commitment from the government, donors and especially civil society who are committed to the plight of children to increase support to the child. I expect commitment from the community as well to fight the mitigating factors especially household consumption, environmental degradation because the environment is being destroyed yet it is for our children. A commitment is not just a commitment but actionable commitment,” said Capt Lapolo.
Lapolo says the ever increasing number of children coming into conflict with the law and those on the streets is a time bomb for the country to have adults who will become unruly.
“In villages, the girl child is not being protected well. This has gone to the extent that a girl child is a sure million as a result of defilement as the parents prefer to negotiate out of court. So the concept of protecting children is still low in our country.” He adds.
He urged Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development to increase budgetary flow to the Lower Local Government to handle children affairs in the country to save lives of those dying right from hospitals and at home.
6 years ago, Uganda Demographic Health Survey showed that Karamoja, West Nile, Central and Northern Uganda had the highest percentage of over 60% of children aged 0-4 experiencing multiple deprivations.
James Kaboogoza Sembatya, the assistant commissioner in charge of children affairs in the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development says the districts have to reschedule their planning and strategies to be able to address challenges that come with child protection.
In Uganda, the probation and community development officers are responsible for child affairs at district and sub county levels. However, during the child forum, concerns were raised about the meager funding to the department.
“We want the districts to change their way of planning and the way they look at children within their region. The biggest issue that is coming out is the little resources to fund the child protection and care,” said Kabogoza.
He urged district leaders to advocate locally and at the Centre for child affairs at the responsible ministries to serve children better.
Ten years on, the regional Child forum seeks to identify key priority areas that will inform the formation of the National Child Policy under consultative stage to have a law that covers all children in the Uganda.
With about 2.4 million under-five stunted and more than I million under weight, it is estimated that Uganda loses 3% of its GDP annually to chronic under nutrition. Despite being the country’s food basket, the South West region has the highest rates of stunting, illustrating that the causes are not limited to low income of food insecurity.