Organisations working to support women experiencing domestic violence do not usually have specific programmes for children but indirectly help the children through assistance to the woman. Although there is knowledge about how domestic violence affects children there is little by way of specific interventions for children. Over the last 10 years MIFUMI has developed work with children affected by domestic violence and abuse and some issues have emerged as key in addressing this problem.
Defilement is a common child abuse problem in homes which are dysfunctional as a result of domestic violence. When a woman is forced to leave home, the children are left in the care of the extended family and can be defiled by male relatives such as grandfathers, uncles, older cousins or herdsmen. Children who are taken away from their mothers are also more neglected and likely to be exposed to risky situations which can lead to defilement, such as being sent to the well to collect water at late hours or alone. Children in the care of elderly people such as grandmothers are also more vulnerable to such attacks. The idea that defilement is mainly carried out by strangers is wrong. Defilement is usually carried out by someone known to the family and to the child and as a result the power dynamics and ability to coerce and exploit the child are high.
Incest is another form of defilement which young girls are subjected to particularly by fathers and grandfathers. Abusive husbands have been known to rape their daughters in front of their wives. Incest is a taboo in most cultures and most go unreported as crimes because traditional rituals are used to “cleanse” the offender and the victim.
The rate of defilement in Uganda is very high and is increasing all the time. In an effort to reduce the crime, the government made it a capital offence which could attract the death penalty. However conviction rates remained low and no executions were carried out. Instead parents of girls exploited this fear and demanded extortionate amounts of money as “bride price” from parents whose sons had made girls pregnant, while serious offenders were not prosecuted. Following an outcry from the public, mainly from parents of young boys, the law was revised and the death penalty made applicable only for aggravated defilement. However the offenders have a right to bail so when they are released back into the community, the victims are left exposed to the offenders who have been known to re-offend using threats or inducements.
Forced marriage is common among many girls as young as 12 or 13 years, who are taken out of school and forced into marriage so that their parents can receive income from bride price. Due to poverty, many parents view their daughters as a source of income and will sell them into marriage in return for cows or money. Sometimes girls are sold from one marriage to another if the man fails to pay the bride price. Young virgins have been sold into marriage to older men due to the belief that they were a cure for HIV/AIDS. Uganda has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Africa. This occurrence should be viewed as a result of a combination of defilement and forced marriages as well as other factors.
The most common cases reported by women at the Advice Centres are neglect and lack of maintenance. Men neglect to provide for their family in homes. When the parents are separated, the male partners/ husbands refuse to pay maintenance for the children’s upkeep. Children from polygamous families are most at risk of neglect. The men involved behave irresponsibly by marrying many wives and then neglecting to provide for them. Some of these children do not even know their father. The children go without food, clothing, medical care or school fees. Many such children drop out of school and either marry early or end up on the streets.