National child protection in Uganda

Report by Agnes Mutonyi Wasike, National Coordinator, Child Protection Working Group, Department of Youth and Children/ MGLSD

The National Child Protection (CPWG) system was established in 2009 within the Institutional framework of Uganda Government Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.  

The CPWG was implemented as a good practice drawing from the work of an inter-agency sub-committee on child protection, coordinated by UNICEF under the humanitarian response in Northern Uganda. The broad mandate of the system is to coordinate efforts of child protection actors; identify and respond to key national child protection issues; and provide a platform for linking, sharing information and learning.

Child safeguarding is implied under Uganda’s legal framework, notably:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 (Article 34 provides for child care and protection)
  • The Children Act 2016 as amended (Cap 59, Laws of Uganda) enhances the protection of children from all forms of violence, outlawed Corporal punishment of children in institutional setting, and establishes the Uganda Child Helpline as a government child protection service
  • The Penal Code Act – Cap 120 (as amended) spells out penalties for actions contravening the law including violation of children rights as enshrined in national laws.

The context of child safeguarding in Uganda brings to reality to a number of issues:

  • Child safeguarding is synonymous with child protection
  • Safeguarding as a distinct concept from protection is a relatively new discourse
  • Child safeguarding is largely practised by a few International NGOs
  • There is neither explicit national policy on child safeguarding nor a mapping of institutions with policies and or practices.
  • Overall, children’s safety in the course of accessing services from institutions is not guaranteed.

CPWG’s interest in child safeguarding was largely influenced by the high demography of children in Uganda. Of the 38.8 million people in Uganda, 20.8 million (53.6%) are children below 18 years (Source: UBOS Statistical Abstract, 2018 [PDF] ). However, the majority of these children face multiple vulnerabilities.

The intervention of CPWG in child safeguarding broadly aimed at securing government leadership and commitment for national guidance and enforcement of child safeguarding measures. The intervention was triggered by a communication from the Oak Foundation (one of CPWG funders) in asking its grantees to observe child safeguarding in their work. Curious to learn more about what child safeguarding entails, the CPWG Coordinator, Agnes Mutonyi Wasike, reached out to two of CPWG member organizations – Save the Children, and Plan Uganda – to learn more about their child safeguarding work.

Impressed by what the two organisations were doing she initiated a formal request to Plan Uganda  with Government endorsement for technical support to train national trainers on child safeguarding. The request was approved and a team of 20 trainers, drawn from 11 institutions, including the Government Ministry were trained as child safeguarding trainers by Ms. Mariama Deschamps, the Head of Child Protection Policy at Plan International UK.

After the training, the team agreed on six key strategies in taking forward child safeguarding i.e.

  • Briefing employer institutions leadership and where possible  undertake organisational level orientation on child safeguarding concept
  • Develop a joint road map as trainers on Child Safeguarding capacity building
  • Undertake a mapping of child service organizations with policies
  • Develop a national training manual in reference to Keeping Children Safe resources
  • Build capacity of child service organisations starting with CPWG members
  • Advocate for inclusion at the drafting of the prospective national child policy.

Indeed, the trainer of trainers arranged for an institutional level debrief on child safeguarding which resulted in positive developments, such as:

  • integration of child safeguarding in existing child protection policies
  • in-house orientation of staff
  • appointment of institutional level focal point persons; integration in the design of projects.

The AVSI Foundation in Uganda is one such agency that integrated child safeguarding in its child protection policy, a product that was applauded as a good practice within the AVSI global family. At joint level, the trainers held a one-day child safeguarding orientation event for representatives of CPWG institutions, and thereafter two institutions sought comprehensive training for their staff and associates.

Similarly, a taskforce from the government, charged with development of guidelines on establishment of public day care centres, sought orientation on child safeguarding to enable them to better understand the level of risk for children in such premises, and to inform definition of contextually appropriate mitigation measures in the guidelines.

Adopting child safeguarding

The adoption of child safeguarding under the CPWG has largely been facilitated by the Keeping Children Safe resources. The trainer of trainers found these resources easy to adopt because of the simple and clear language used, enabling their fast appreciation of the difference between child safeguarding and child protection. In addition, the presentation of child safeguarding standards in detail, and provision of exercise and sample working tools, notably the risk self-assessment tool provided a checklist on quality assurance.

The relevance of child safeguarding in Uganda is evident from the responsiveness of people that have undergone training under CPWG. Member institutions, notably the Regional Psycho Social Support Initiative (REPSSI), Save the Children, and World Vision Uganda logistically facilitated the trainer of trainers on manual development, pre-test and orientation of other actors. The enduring challenge though is the absence of a national framework to guide child safeguarding implementation. CPWG efforts on this front were curtailed by the difference in conceptualisation and usage of the term ‘Policy’, whereby in government, policy refers to a guiding framework with a national outlook and does not apply in a single institution’s jurisdiction.

While the trainer of trainers had both short-term and long-term plans on promotion of child safeguarding across the country, these plans have not been fully implemented due to lack of funding. The training manual developed remains a draft, and in absence of a national framework to enforce child safeguarding compliance under government leadership, child safeguarding remains a huge gap in the protection of children in Uganda.

Emerging lessons for the CPWG so far point to the leadership role of Government as core to assure national level child safeguarding coverage; the need for conceptual clarity at country level as a pre-requisite for government adoption and enforcement of the International Child Safeguarding Standards; and the need for a strong coordination mechanism including financial support to keep the child safeguarding agenda alive.

Nevertheless, alongside the ongoing process of review and certification of the CPWG draft Child Safeguarding Training Manual by Keeping Children Safe, CPWG is seeking funding partnerships, and collaborators on child safeguarding training, experience sharing and joint learning; and will keep the Government Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development informed on the progress.

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