Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty; the law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under section 145(a) of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two years’ imprisonment for conviction.
Rape remained a serious problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the government arrested, prosecuted, and convicted persons for rape, the crime was seriously underreported, and police did not investigate most cases. The Center for Domestic Violence Protection (CEDOVIP) reported security officers often responded to women’s claims of sexual violence with skepticism. Police lacked the criminal forensic capacity to collect evidence, which hampered prosecution and conviction. Although the law mandates police training on gender-based violence, training was often ad hoc and poorly attended, according to CEDOVIP.
The UPF crime report through June 2015, the most recent available, noted 10,163 reported sexual offenses, of which 787 were rapes, 8,954 statutory rapes, 308 indecent assaults, 56 incest, and 58 “unnatural offenses.” Gulu District police told the media on April 1 they registered an average of 60 cases of statutory rape a month, with most cases involving girls younger than 14. According to the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), few cases involving rape and statutory rape were brought to trial and completed, in part due to societal factors. Parents, husbands, local leaders, religious leaders, police, prosecutors, and sometimes courts pressured victims to settle cases out of court. According to FIDA, these settlements often left perpetrators unpunished and discouraged other victims from seeking redress.
According to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), which the government conducted every five years, at least 27 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 experienced some form of domestic violence in 2010. The same survey found at least 56 percent of married women reported some form of domestic violence. According to a representative from the UPF’s Child and Family Protection Unit, victims often did not report domestic violence because society generally did not consider it a crime, and police officers often did not consider it a serious offense.
In 2015 local NGOs operated hotlines in 11 of the country’s 112 districts. The government worked with local and international NGOs and religious institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, to increase understanding of domestic violence as a human rights abuse. A few NGOs ran domestic violence shelters, including Action Aid, Mifumi, and Uganda Women’s Network. Action Aid reported its shelters received between three and 10 domestic violence survivors daily. CEDOVIP operated a fund to provide victims of gender-based violence with emergency medical treatment, legal aid, transportation to police stations, and other services.
On August 17, the judiciary reported the introduction of audio/video link technology into the court system to enable vulnerable witnesses, especially children and victims of sexual assault, to testify without being in the same room as their alleged attacker. FIDA reported it was working with the judiciary to expedite gender-based violence cases through the court system by organizing special court sessions for victims.
On August 17, the cabinet passed a policy that requires the government to allocate funds to implement laws against gender-based violence, including the Domestic Violence Act of 2010, Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2010, and the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009. On November 25, the minister of gender, labor, and social development launched a five-year national action plan to eliminate gender-based violence, promote gender equality, and remove barriers to the advancement of women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law and constitution prohibit FGM/C of women and girls and establish a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics updated in February showed 1 percent of women below the age of 50 had been subjected to FGM/C. The government, women’s groups, and international organizations combated the practice through education and livelihood skills training. These programs, which received support from some local leaders, emphasized close cooperation with traditional authority figures and peer counseling. Nevertheless, the Sabiny and Pokot ethnic groups in the east along the Kenyan border continued the practice; the Sabiny practiced types I and II, and the Pokot practiced type III.
Local NGOs, including Reproductive Education and Community Health and the Kapchorwa Civil Organizations Alliance, held drama and theatrical plays in their communities to teach the legal provisions, penalties, and dangers associated with FGM/C. In December 2015, during the Sabiny’s cultural day celebrations in Bukwo District, a delegation of Sabiny leaders led by Mzei Anguria Stephen, chairman of the Bukwo Elders Union, openly denounced FGM/C and urged the Sabiny people to shun the practice and educate their girls. In July, during the Pokot’s annual cultural day in Amudat District, the district chairperson said local leaders had resolved to intensify the fight against FGM/C, which would save the lives of many young girls in the area. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) collaborated with local churches to fight FGM/C.
Media reported on April 23 that pregnant women in eastern Kapchorwa District opted to give birth at home to avoid exposing themselves to health workers as having undergone FGM/C; this practice had the unfortunate consequence of increased infant and maternal mortality rates in the district.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Media reported several cases of ritual child killings. Kyampisi Childcare Ministries reported in February that six children were mutilated and killed during the election season as part of rituals to bring good fortune to political candidates. The Coordination Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons reported nine victims of ritual killings through June.
On May 25, police arrested Herbert Were after they found him with his eight-year-old brother’s head. Police said Were confessed to beheading his brother as a precondition for joining a cult named “illuminati,” which promised he would become wealthy.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a serious and widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, and workplaces. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD) reported that fear of retaliation deterred many victims from reporting harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence; however, family planning information and assistance were difficult to access, particularly in rural areas, where there were few health clinics. According to the 2011 DHS, one in three married women wanted to delay childbirth or space their children but could not access family planning aids. During the year the Ministry of Health reported that 36 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 used contraception. Women also faced challenges of religious restrictions imposed by faiths that oppose contraception.
Men’s lack of support for, or active opposition to, family planning often was a main deterrent to contraceptive use, according to a study conducted during the year by the NGO Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development. In August the spokesperson for the government-run National Medical Stores reported men often harassed and beat their wives for using contraceptives.
According to the World Health Organization, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 343 per 100,000 live births. Health officials attributed the high maternal mortality rate to medical complications during delivery and the inability of healthcare facilities to manage them; media cited staff shortages and inadequate supplies at healthcare centers, also noting that health-care centers in rural communities often were inaccessible. According to UNFPA, only 57 percent of births were attended by skilled healthcare personnel.
In June 2015 the Ministry of Health established standards and guidelines to reduce morbidity and mortality related to unsafe abortions, including increasing access to family planning services and legal postabortion care and services. Fear of arrest often made healthcare professionals unwilling to attend to women who had undergone an abortion because the service providers feared police would accuse them of having performed the abortion. Abortion is a criminal offense and punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment for the practitioner and seven years for the mother.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men. Discrimination against women, however, was widespread, especially in rural areas. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women in divorce, employment, owning or managing businesses and property, education, and other areas. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under local customary law in many areas, women may not own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. Polygyny is legal under both customary and Islamic law. In some ethnic groups, men may “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers.
During the year CEDOVIP reported receiving 18 cases concerning widows whose in-laws denied them access to marital property, housing, and their children, particularly in cases where the women’s names were absent from the property documents and when the women were in polygynous relationships. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships had no judicial recourse to protect their rights.
The law provides that “every employer shall pay males and females equal remuneration for work of equal value.” In 2013 the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) reported, however, that women received much lower wages than men for the same work.
Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born in or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children under the age of 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children under the age of 18 adopted by citizens.
The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. The National Identification and Registration Authority, established in 2015, is responsible for registering all persons in the country for the purpose of national identification. According to the 2011 DHS, only 29 percent of rural and 38 percent of urban births were registered. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services. Some primary schools, however, required birth certificates for enrollment, especially those in urban centers. Enrollment in public secondary schools, university, and tertiary institutions required birth certificates.
Education: The government provided free universal primary education to four children per family as well as universal secondary education, although parents were required to provide lunch and schooling materials for children in secondary school.
A 2015 International Center for Research on Women study indicated more than 50 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 18 dropped out of school due to poverty and early pregnancy. The government reported significantly higher dropout rates for girls than boys, due to early pregnancy, child marriages, sexual harassment and abuse, lack of access to sanitary pads, and poverty.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. Authorities maintained a national hotline to report child abuse and received 4,891 reports between June 2014 and August 2015. Adolescent children were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, early marriage, human trafficking, drug and substance abuse, involvement in social unrest, and engaging in criminal activities. From January through June 2015, the most recent data available, police registered 7,349 child related offenses, including 4,430 cases of child neglect, 1,366 of abandonment, 755 of abuse, 674 kidnappings (enticing a minor from a guardian) and abductions (forcing a minor away from a guardian), 76 cases of trafficking, and 48 of infanticide.
The law considers sexual contact outside marriage with children under the age of 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator, as “statutory rape,” which carries a maximum penalty of death. Payment to the child’s parents often settled such cases. In September 2015 IGP Mugenyi said statutory rape was the most common crime against children. In 2013 the Ministry of Education and Sports and UNICEF released a study indicating 78 percent of primary school children and 82 percent of secondary students had experienced sexual abuse. In most cases the perpetrators were teachers. Of the victims, only 40 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys reported the abuse to authorities.
The government continued to work with UNICEF and NGOs–including Save the Children, Child Fund, and the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN)–to combat child abuse. The UPF provided free rape and statutory rape medical examination kits to hospitals and medical practitioners throughout the country to assist investigations.
Corporal punishment is illegal, but remained a problem in schools and sometimes resulted in permanent injuries. On May 20, the president signed the 2015 Children Amendment Act, which makes corporal punishment in schools punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The amendment also seeks to protect children from hazardous employment and harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and FGM/C.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce the law. Marriage of underage girls by parental arrangement was common in rural areas. In 2015 local NGOs and the police’s Family and Children Unit reported some parents arranged marriages or other sexual arrangements for girls as young as 12. UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report estimated 10 percent of the country’s girls married before the age of 15 and 40 percent were married by the age of 18.
On January 6, media reported police arrested seven persons in Jinja District for allegedly attempting to marry a 14-year-old girl to a 19-year-old man.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under the age of 18 in the women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: While the law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and the problem was extensive. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape, which refers to any sexual contact with a minor, carries a maximum penalty of death. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a payment. The law prohibits child pornography.
The 2011 Computer Misuse Act carries a definition of child pornography that adheres to international legal standards, but the act does not specifically address the solicitation of children for sexual purposes.
Child prostitution remained a problem. The National Information Technology Authority (NITA) reported an increase in the number of child sex abuse cases, noting the internet makes it easier for pedophiles to target children online. The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted several training sessions for police officers on combatting online child abuse, and NITA reported it established a portal on its website to receive complaints of online child sexual abuse and child pornography. The local NGO Uganda Youth Development Link estimated in 2015 that at least 18,000 girls and women engaged in sex work across the country.
Child Soldiers: In July Katumba Wamala, army commander and chief of defense forces, warned that the rebel Allied Democratic Forces recruited child soldiers, particularly in the east.
The Lord’s Resistance Army continued to hold women and children against their will and to abduct children from neighboring countries.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: From January to June 2015, the most recent information available, the UPF reported 48 infanticides.
Displaced Children: Families in the remote Karamoja Region sent many children to Kampala during the dry season to find work and beg on the streets. In March the International Human Trafficking Institute reported that some Karamojong parents sent their children to Kampala with recruiters who promised to find them work but instead forced them to beg on the streets. A 2015 study by ANPPCAN found that 57 percent of Kampala’s street children were from Karamoja.
Police routinely rounded up street children and relocated them to a custodial home for juvenile delinquents, where staff attempted to locate the children’s families and return them to their homes. Media reported police often found that children who had been returned to their families reappeared on Kampala’s streets soon thereafter. In April the MGLSD reported the government completed and opened a rehabilitation institution in Karamoja to assist Karamojong children.
Institutionalized Children: There were reports of abuses in several orphanages. For example, on April 8, media reported that police closed an illegal orphanage in Lwengo District that housed 26 children in three rooms, denied them food for several days, and prevented them from going to school.
According to regulations issued in 2014, an approved orphanage “shall only receive children in an emergency from a police officer or under an interim care order from a judge.” All approved homes are required to keep proper accounts, employ a qualified warden and registered nurse, keep health records for each child, provide adequate sleeping facilities, and provide for an appropriate education. Nevertheless, the government lacked the resources to register and monitor orphanages.
In 2015 the MGLSD estimated there were more than 50,000 children in approximately 1,000 orphanages in the country, of which only 83 were licensed by the ministry. More than half of the orphanages did not meet minimal standards and held children illegally. Nearly 70 percent of orphanages maintained inadequate records on the children present. Most children in orphanages had at least one living parent.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The law, however, does not establish penalties for those engaging in discrimination. The law provides for access to all buildings “where the public is invited” and information and communications for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. A 2013 study conducted by architects in Kampala found that 95 percent of the city’s buildings were inaccessible to persons with disabilities due to lack of ramps or elevators.
Persons with disabilities faced societal discrimination and very limited job and educational opportunities. The UHRC received complaints of discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.) and access to transport and other public services.
Most schools did not accommodate persons with disabilities.
In June Plan International reported many children with disabilities were victims of physical and emotional abuse, including bullying, ridicule, and social isolation. Perpetrators included parents, foster parents, and teachers as well as peers. Plan International reported that 84 percent of children with disabilities had been victims of violence, compared with 54 percent of children without disabilities. A 2012 report released by the National Council on Disability (NCD), the most recent information available, indicated 45 percent of persons with disabilities were literate, compared with 71 percent in the general population. The report found children with mental disabilities were sometimes denied food and tied to trees and beds with ropes to control their movements.
The government took steps during the year to address the needs of persons with disabilities. The government increased fiscal year 2016 funding by 34 percent for training teachers working with children with special needs. The Mukono District Council passed a resolution that banned the construction of buildings that do not have provisions of access for persons living with disabilities.
In July the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda petitioned the chief justice to improve access to courthouses for persons with disabilities and to introduce sign language and Braille systems in the courts.
The law reserves five seats in the National Assembly for representatives of persons with disabilities. The NCD reported participation by persons with disabilities in the February elections was minimal, in part due to inaccessibility of polling centers. Election materials were not modified for persons with vision disabilities, and polling stations lacked support services such as guides, helpers, and sign language interpreters. The NCD also noted civic education offered by the government to citizens through electronic and print media was inaccessible to many persons with disabilities.
Government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including the Ministry of State for Disabled Persons under the MGLSD and the NCD, lacked sufficient funding to undertake significant initiatives.
There were reports of violence among ethnic minorities over land, grazing rights, border demarcations, and other contested matters.
On July 15, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that during a March 11-25 operation to quell interethnic violence between the Bamba and Bakonzo tribes, the UPDF and UPF shot and killed 17 civilians in Bundibugyo and Kasese Districts. According to HRW, 13 of the civilians were unarmed. A police spokesperson claimed security forces were responding to attacks with machetes and stones. The National Assembly’s Defense and Internal Affairs Committee launched an investigation, but no report had been released by year’s end.
On February 8, media reported a group of citizens and residents of foreign extraction complained of discrimination in the process of applying for national identity cards. The group, called the Uganda Multiracial Community, alleged the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied some of its members, citizens and noncitizens, official registration. Yasin Omar, the group’s head, said that some persons of multiracial backgrounds paid up to 500,000 shillings ($142) to obtain identity cards, although the government was supposed to issue them without charge. The president met the group in February and promised to resolve their problems with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. No further update was available.
The constitution recognizes 56 indigenous ethnicities. The government has historically displaced indigenous groups to create national parks and reserves.
Unlike in previous years, media did not report any clashes between the Benet ethnic group, evicted from its land on Mount Elgon in 1983, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It was unknown whether the government had fully complied with a 2005 ruling that returned lands within Mount Elgon to the Benet.
Unlike in previous years, there were no known reports of neighboring communities discriminating against the Batwa ethnic group, which the government displaced in 1992 when it created Mgahinga National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and Echuya Central Forest Reserve. Conflict in previous years resulted from resentment by local ethnic groups residing in the area where the government resettled the Batwa.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal according to a colonial era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, societal harassment and violence, intimidation, and threats.
On August 4, police raided an LGBTI pride week event at a Kampala nightclub and ordered the approximately 300 attendees to huddle in a corner and sit on the floor. There were multiple reports police beat other attendees who hid in the club’s bathrooms or attempted to exit the club. There were also reports police sexually assaulted transgender individuals. According to witnesses, police ordered the event organizers to come forward, arrested 16 individuals without charge, and kept them for several hours in a holding cell, where police incited other detainees in the cell to beat them.
In a separate case, the LGBTI community cancelled a pride week parade event after the minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, threatened to mobilize civilians to beat participants. The minister then released a statement saying LGBTI activities were criminal and illegal. The minister, who later denied the threat, claimed police cancelled the event because organizers had failed to obtain prior police permission, a claim HRW disputed.
In 2015 the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) rejected the application of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) to reserve its name, the first step required to register as an NGO. As explanation for its refusal, the URSB cited the 2012 Companies Act that allows it to refuse any requested name that “in the opinion of the registrar is undesirable.” On June 1, SMUG, with support from HRAPF, filed a suit claiming the URSB’s decision violated the organization’s constitutional rights to associate and assemble. The case continued at year’s end.
In January 2015 police arrested nine men who helped organize an HIV/AIDS testing clinic in the western Ntungamo District for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Police claimed four of those arrested were engaged in sexual activity at the time of arrest, a charge disputed by those arrested. The men, who were subjected to forced anal exams, were released on bond. The case continued at year’s end.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was common and prevented persons with HIV/AIDS from obtaining treatment and support. International and local NGOs, in cooperation with the government, sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Counselors encouraged clients to be tested and to receive information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.
Police and the UPDF regularly refused to recruit persons who tested positive for HIV, claiming their bodies would be too weak for rigorous training and subsequent deployment.
In 2014 the National Assembly passed the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill that creates a legal framework for the prevention and control of HIV, disclosure of seropositive status to reduce transmissions, testing and counseling services, and prescribes penalties for the intentional spread of HIV. In July 2015 the president signed the bill into law. Human rights and HIV/AIDS activists criticized the bill, asserting it represented a dangerous backslide in the country’s effort to respond to HIV. Activists expressed concern about a clause in the bill that criminalizes attempted and intentional transmission of HIV. A person convicted of these offenses faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of approximately five million shillings ($1,430).
In September the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa reported the results of research in 2014-15 indicating that healthcare workers sterilized 72 women living with HIV without their consent between 1993 and 2013. Most of the cases took place in government-run hospitals during childbirth by caesarian section.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence remained a problem. Mobs attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, killing, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims.
On March 22, media reported that motorcycle taxi drivers organized an illegal court in Lugazi, which tried, sentenced to death, and subsequently beat to death a man accused of stealing a motorcycle.