Uganda’s complex history when it comes to orphans

According to UNICEF, over 2 million children in Uganda have become orphans in the past decade. The reasons for such high figures have been attributed to a number of dilemmas, including children born with HIV/AIDS or having an HIV/AIDS positive parent, and families facing financial difficulties. These recent crises have led to certain orphanages exploiting vulnerable families and children.

The number of orphans in Uganda started to grow as a result of a civil war that broke out in 1981. In the years that followed, children lost their parents and family members due to the violence. Young boys were abducted by the fighting groups, forced to become child soldiers. Many children were also born as a result of forced marriages and rape, creating another level of inequality, one that ostracized them and their mothers from the rest of society. This degree of separation contributed to more children being taken in by orphanages.

Uganda began to also experience a rise in orphanage population as a result of the HIV and AIDS crisis, which emerged in the country during the 1980s. As a result of this epidemic, there are still severe effects being felt within the country today. Among a population of approximately 43 million, 1.5 million are currently living with HIV. The virus has had a disproportionate effect among the people of Uganda, with most of the positive cases affecting women. AIDS was responsible for over 20,000 deaths during 2018, demonstrating its true severity. AIDS takes a large toll on an individual by damaging the body’s immune system, affecting its ability to ward off other conditions later in life.

According to Avert, as of 2018, 33 percent of children that have HIV are still not able to access treatment. Stigma is a major issue, and many mothers have passed away, even though treatments are available to help those who are affected by HIV/AIDS. UNICEF estimates that around half of the country’s orphans have lost either one or both of their parents as a result of the virus.

The current situation in Uganda reveals that economic disparities are in part responsible for the state the orphan crisis has reached. Lower-income families are often left with few resources, and many have made the decision to leave their children in orphanages in hopes that they will be able to receive the care parents can’t provide for them financially. However, these placements often come with a host of problems. A piece by Jessica Davis for CNN details how she had adopted a young Ugandan girl named Namata, but it later became clear that Namata’s biological mother had never intended for her daughter to be adopted, believing that the journalist and her family would merely be caring for her child. In order to make the adoption go through, paperwork was forged and the young girl was placed in an orphanage.

As a result of the economic and social struggles in Uganda, a number of unregulated orphanages have emerged, taking advantage of the situation. With over 300 unregulated orphanages, these systems have become an exploitative method to gain foreign donations. In total, unlicensed orphanages bring in around a quarter of a billion dollars a year.

One of the major issues that have resulted from these unlicensed orphanages is the lack of oversight, allowing abuse and neglect to fester. VICE News noted, for example, that the Save the AIDS Generation only has a handful of adults looking over the children. The Ugandan government has recently come out with new legislation to protect children. However, extensive corruption across different parties involved has made the situation difficult to handle, including bribes of probation officers and local government officials.

Orphanages also deal with other problems including the culture of voluntourism and foreign volunteers. Oftentimes, no criminal background checks are done, exposing children to potentially dangerous situations. Due to the growing controversy surrounding voluntourism, NGOs like UNICEF have spoken out against some volunteer-focused organizations and no longer engage in placing volunteers within orphanages.

The level of neglect that children can encounter while within the orphanages has brought up concerns regarding developmental delays, affecting youth emotionally and mentally. Many children who age out of the system have higher rates of suicide and are more likely to enter prostitution as a form of survival.

As a result of these concerns, social workers in Uganda have focused on bringing forth reform for the security and care of children. Many are working on addressing the role poverty plays in perpetuating systems of inequality. They have worked on finding ways to connect children and their families to community-based forms of care.

Uganda’s orphan crisis is one that reveals the way income disparities affect the number of orphans in the country. The number of unregulated orphanages has also demonstrated the ways in which children and families are taken advantage of for profit as opposed to providing actual care. Save the Children has worked on addressing the social issues felt by Uganda’s children. A few ways to support their mission include donating and sponsoring a child.

Works Cited

  1. Hyun, Chulho. “Childhood Lost: Assistance for Children Orphaned by AIDS in Uganda.” UNICEF, June 21, 2007.

  2. “HIV and AIDS in Uganda.” Avert, April 15, 2020.

  3. Families in Uganda.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, October 8, 2019.

  4. “Uganda: Tourist Visits to Orphanages Putting Children at Risk.” ECPAT International, April 29, 2019.

  5. Davis, Jessica. “The 'Orphan' I Adopted from Uganda Already Had a Family.” CNN. Cable News Network, October 14, 2017.

  6. Nianias, Helen. “No Hugs, No One to Talk to: How Ugandan Orphanages Are Harming a Generation | Helen Nianias.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, November 23, 2017.

  7. Lindau, Julia. “How Foreign Donations, Poverty and Corruption Are Fueling Uganda's Unregulated Orphanage Industry.” VICE, August 3, 2019.

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