What is happening in Uganda represents in an exemplary way what is going on in many countries of South Saharan Africa.
Characterized by a variable geomorphological aspect (a plateau of 1,200 meters, edged by mountains that exceed 4,000 meters with Mount Elgon and the Ruwenzori), is rich in water reserves: here is located the largest African lake (the third of the whole planet) the Vittoria (30,800 km² The Ugandan side, 68,800 km² in total), which together with other lakes, such as Lake Albert and Lake Edward (2,325 km²) and some large reservoirs, make the problem “water” theoretically non-existent. Especially if you consider that water is also provided by the Nile. But that’s not true: water related diseases are diffused.
Ethnically, in Uganda there are many groups: Bantu Nilotic-camitics; Baganda (16.5%), banyankore (9.5%), Basoga (9%), Bakiga (7%), and Iteso (7%). A kaleidoscope of races and people similar in many other areas of Africa and that influences political choices. Independent of 1962, Uganda suffered long-term internal tensions and was repeatedly subject to power reversal, culminating in the military coup of Yoweri Museveni in 1986.
Discovery of oil deposits in Lake Alberta changed country’s economy from predominantly agricultural, and based on coffee to international aid to being an oil exporting country and making Uganda attractive for many countries like China (which has cropped a Leading position in the area of infrastructure investments) and Japan.
Consequences on the Ugandan population are relevant: mostly among the youngest. More than half of citizens of the country are under 18 years old. Despite the presence of diseases, Uganda has achieved good results, reaching 33% of the Millennium Development Goals beginning with those concerning the social rights of children.
Child survival has improved but not enough. Less than two-thirds of children are registered at birth. Thanks to the Mobile Vital Registration System, number of children under five who registered has doubled (from 30% in 2011 to 60% in 2014). But there are still nearly 3 million unregistered under-fives years children in the country, and nearly one-third of these are in Eastern and South-West regions. 40% of children under five are not registered at birth. That’s representative of a situation probably worse than the one reported by official data.
More than most some groups like children aged 0–8, adolescent girls, and disabled children are marginalised and particularly disadvantaged.
Starting from health. Uganda is one of the top 10 countries for high maternal, newborn and child mortality. HIV/AIDS is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. And malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and similar diseases are responsible for more than 70% of under-five deaths.
Environment conditions are causing it but also social and legal causes are present: although basic health care is officially free, families meet 61% of their children’s health care costs. And there is a tremendous lack of trained health workers, health centers and hospitals.
Despite improvements in use of vaccines, nearly half of children aged 12–23 months are not fully vaccinated. Also nutrition causes great problems: although the progress of the last period, under-nutrition is cause for 40% of child deaths. For those who survive, lifelong consequences are relevant, starting from physical and cognitive development and future earning power. One-third of under-fives (2.4 million) children are stunted and more than 1 million are underweight. 38% of children are vitamin A deficient. 49% of children aged six months to four years, and 60% of pregnant women are anemic.
Also education is a priority. Since the introduction of universal primary education, in 1997, the number of children enrolling in primary school has tripled. However, 1.4 million 6–12-year-olds across the country are not in school. Primary school enrolment is relevant but quality of education remains low and secondary school dropout rates are high (with relevant disparities between rural and urban areas). Some groups of Uganda’s children are still particularly vulnerable. Early childhood development policies (ECD) have improved at national level but 3 million three to five-year-olds are still not attending a pre-primary centre or school. Again problem is money: primary school enrolment rates are high but only two out of three of those who enroll complete their primary education. Situation is even worse in secondary school: expenses are higher and children are often taken out of school to work to support the family (actually more than half of children aged 5–17 are working). Only 24% of boys and girls go to a secondary school also because of violence and sexual abuse at school and lack of sanitation and hygiene facilities.
Quality of education in Uganda is a big problem too: only one in five primary school teachers are competent in English and Maths and 60% of teachers are not in school teaching. There are great differences depending on where children live and how wealthy their parents are. Children in urban areas are more than twice as likely to attend secondary school as those in rural areas.
But that’s not enough. Social numbers are terrific. Almost 40% of children have suffered physical violence. More than half of 15–19-year-old women have experienced physical or sexual violence. A quarter of girls get married and begin child-bearing between the ages of 15 and 19. Although the minimum age for a woman to get married is 18, one in four have been married and 15% are married by the age of 15. 2.4 million children are engaged in exploitative child labour. Over 8 million children, 51% of the child population, are considered vulnerable. There are 10,000 street children in Uganda – a 70% increase since 1993. Of the estimated 2.5 million children living with a disability in Uganda, two-thirds receive no form of intervention.
Uganda has made important strides in promoting these rights over the past 20 years. But in order to fully understand quality of life of children in this country and the issues that continue to hamper the achievement of their full potential, it is important to take a systematic look at the situation of children in Uganda today. For children problems come also from cultural practices that, according to MDGs, should be considered unbelievable.
Also published on Medium.