President Museveni signs children Act (amendment) Bill 2015 into Law

President Museveni signs children Act (amendment) Bill 2015 into Law

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) congratulates the Government of Uganda on the recent signing of The Children Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 thereby turning it into law.

The President assented to the Bill on 20th May 2016, which came after the Bill was passed by the Parliament of Uganda in March 2016.

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“This is a milestone for the children of Uganda!” said Ms. Aida Girma, UNICEF’s Representative in Uganda. “I congratulate the President and the Government of Uganda for this major achievement, which now puts in place the legislation required for all children’s fundamental rights to be legally protected.”

The amended Children’s Act is significant in that it establishes new protective legislation regarding the guardianship of children, inter-country adoption, and corporal punishment, among other issues.

The old Act, Cap. 59, focused on the basic needs of the child, leaving gaps in the legal protection of all child rights according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and other international Conventions that protect child rights.

The Children Act Amendment process

Uganda ratified the UN CRC in 1990, committing itself to putting children first so that they grow, survive and reach their full potential.

The ratification was followed by the enactment of the Children’s Statute in 1996, which defined child rights as meeting the basic needs of the child such as food, shelter, housing, clothing, education and health; but, critically, did not include the protection of other human rights, such as civil and political rights.

Due to the gaps contained therein, Civil Society began calling for a more rights-focused Statute which led to the amendment process that ended in March 2016, when the Children Act Amendment Bill 2015 was passed by the Parliament of Uganda.

Key amendments

Key amendments in the Children Act Amendment Bill include:

Clause 4: which now comprehensively provides for the full rights of the child. The old Act limited child rights to basic needs. The new Act introduces rights of children to: express their opinions in matters affecting the child; birth registration; privacy; legal representation in court; access to information to which a parent or guardian deems necessary for the child’s growth and well-being; freedom of expression; inheritance of property; and to be treated without discrimination.

Clause 7: which introduces protection of children from harmful customary practices such as child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, as well as penalties for offenders, among other harmful practices.

Clause 8: which protects children from harmful employment. It clarifies on employment and restates what is in the Employment Act, 2006. Here harmful employment is prohibited including the Worst Forms of Child Labour/hazardous labour. This includes work that exposes a child to physical, psychological and sexual abuse, and work underground, among dangerous heights, and with dangerous machinery. It stipulates that the age of admission for employment is 16 years of age, in line with the Employment Act.

Clause 10: which protects children from violence and provides the right to access child protection services. It addresses issues such as: sexual abuse and exploitation, child marriage, child sacrifice, child Labour, child trafficking, institutional abuse of children, female genital mutilation (FGM), other forms of physical and emotional abuse; provides for preventive and response services for victims of child abuse and neglect; and the mandatory reporting of child abuse by medical practitioners, teachers and social workers/counsellors.

Clause 11: which offers clarity on Guardianship. It introduces legal Customary Guardianship – according to customs; that Guardianship is only possible if there are no relatives willing to look after the child or if alternative care options have been exhausted; and is restricted to only Ugandans. Non Ugandans can only adopt, which requires: the child to be in foster care for at least 12 months; adoptive parents to provide periodic reports on the child; an Adoption Agency to be created to handle adoption applications; and stops when a child turns 18 years. Inter-country adoption will be a matter of last resort after other alternative care options have been exhausted and clarifies on the offences of an administrator of the estate of a child to ensure that children’s property is not abused. All provisions on Guardianship are fully in line with the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption.

Clause 24: which prohibits the death sentence for a person below 18 years and adults whose offence was committed when s/he was below the age of 18 years.

Clause 106A: which prohibits corporal punishment in schools. Breaking this law attracts imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding 100 currency points or both. A currency point is equal to 20,000 Uganda Shillings.

“We now look forward to supporting the implementation of the Act across different sectors; popularising the new Act through the production and dissemination of child friendly materials in both English and local languages; and advocating for the scale-up of national programmes related to the Act at both national and sub-national levels,” noted Ms. Girma.

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