-Over 200 Learners In Kalangala Are Living With HIV/AIDS-
By The Insight Post-Uganda
Kalangala district situated in Southwestern Uganda, consists of 84 isolated islands spread across the vast waters of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater body.
The islands, scattered like jewels across the lake’s surface, offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life. From lush vegetation to sparkling waters, Kalangala’s landscape is a testament to nature’s grandeur.
However, beneath its tranquil surface, a disturbing truth persists. Defilement, an abhorrent crime that targets the vulnerable, continues to thrive in the shadows, hidden by numerous obstacles that hinder its exposure.
As the world observes there is a unique battle being waged in the district to raise voices for girls and stand up for their rights. It is a battle against silence, a battle for justice, and a battle to protect innocent girls from sexual predators.
Within this community, a disturbing tradition endures, one that falsely asserts that having sex with virgins and girls under 18 years of age will earn favour from mysterious spirits, ensuring a plentiful fish catch.
This unfounded belief has ensnared the thoughts of numerous individuals in different fishing communities, enabling a cycle of suffering, which urgently needs to be dismantled.
Among the victims are the most defenseless, children with disabilities, betrayed by those they trust most such as their family members, neighbours, and even strangers who lie in wait to strike.
Although it may initially seem like a tale of despair, it serves as a rallying cry, a proclamation that the silence surrounding these atrocities will be broken. To confront this danger, a courageous few are taking a stand, resolute in their mission to unveil this concealed darkness, safeguard the innocent, and pursue justice for those who have suffered wrongdoing.
Disturbing statistics from the Department of Education in Kalangala District paint a grim picture. Since last year, a staggering 573 children have fallen victim to defilement. In 2022 alone, 365 children suffered this heinous crime, and in the current year, 208 cases have already been reported.
Emmanuel Nseko, the District Education Officer, highlights the devastating consequences of defilement on the community. According to Nseko, these cases have contributed significantly to the high number of teenage pregnancies among girls, disrupting their educational pursuits and jeopardising their futures.
“14 percent of girls aged 15 and 17 years old become pregnant each year as a result of defilement,” he explains.
Defilement, along with other issues such as child labour, early marriages, inadequate sanitary facilities and lack of access to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) information and services, poses life and health challenges to children and adolescents.
“Tragically, in some cases, it even leads to the loss of life. Therefore we need to be keen,” Nseko noted.
Challenges Faced by the District
The situation in Kalangala is exacerbated by various challenges including poor parenting and child neglect, particularly by male parents, which has fueled immorality and indiscipline among the youth.
According to Nseko, the district’s educational landscape is marked by a significant drop in the number of students who complete their primary education. Out of 1,267 learners enrolled in primary one in 2015, only 545 completed their Primary Leaving Education (PLE) in 2022.
Moreover, over 200 learners in Kalangala are living with HIV and are in dire need of supplementary nutrition. Nseko urges the government to prioritise nutritional support in schools to address this pressing health issue.
Community Perspectives and Solutions
The community attributes the rise in defilement cases to the lack of sensitisation programs among children, parents and guardians regarding the negative consequences of such behaviour.
Sadoki Mangeni, a concerned resident of Kalangala town council, emphasises the need for support systems for survivors of defilement, including health services, access to justice, and rehabilitation, to facilitate their return to school.
Bridget Amutwongire, the Communications Officer at Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Uganda Cares, underscores the importance of imparting parenting skills and providing age-appropriate behavioural change messages to learners. She also advocates for raising awareness among men in the community to foster respect for female children.
Challenges in Seeking Justice
Seeking justice for defilement cases in Kalangala faces numerous obstacles. The official annual police crimes report for 2022 reveals a disturbing national trend, with 12,780 children being defiled, predominantly girls.
While Kalangala is not among the districts with the highest number of defilement cases, there is a suspicion that under-declaration of cases is occurring in the district.
Amidst these challenges, the community remains resilient, and there is a glimmer of hope. The government is committed to its policy of establishing primary schools in every parish and secondary school in every sub-county. This initiative aims to reduce the vulnerability of children who travel long distances to school, where they are at risk of defilement and rape.
Elizabeth Mbatudde, the Assistant Commissioner for Pre-Primary Education at the Ministry of Education and Sports, representing Vice President Jessica Alupo during Girl Child Day celebrations in Kalangala organized by the Ministry of Education and Sports in partnership with Universal Education Secretariat promised that the government is considering various strategies.
These include building infrastructure at schools and providing safer educational environments for children.
Kalangala District currently has 23 primary and four secondary schools with 175 teachers on the government payroll. There is also one tertiary school with 17 instructors.
However, thirteen islands in the district lack primary schools, making it challenging for many children to access education facilities.
During a recent school inspection, the Ambassador of the Government of Iceland in Uganda recognised the district’s pressing needs and pledged to support it.
Through the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA), Iceland has previously constructed infrastructure and sponsored teachers’ education in the district. However, due to accountability issues, they temporarily withdrew their support.
NGO and Human Rights Defenders
Information provided by the Maria Theresa Foundation (MTF) in Kalangala town council reveals that the vulnerable individuals also include girls who are trafficked from various regions of the country and brought to Kalangala. They are often coerced into roles such as prostitutes, barmaids, and waitresses, or forced into child marriages.
The foundation’s mission is to offer hope, resettlement, rehabilitation, and empowerment to survivors of trafficking and single mothers in the district, enabling them to start a new life.
According to Olivia Kyakuwa, who serves as the Coordinator at MTF, Kalangala is one of the destinations for trafficked individuals, primarily children and women. Human trafficking is on the rise and is attributed to unemployment, which traffickers exploit to lure and ensnare their victims.
She further explained that this year, they have handled two cases involving three survivors of human trafficking. One case involves two females (aged 25 and 15) who were trafficked to the Bwendero landing site in Mugoye sub-county under false pretences of job opportunities but were coerced into selling Khat leaves and performing other unpaid tasks upon arrival.
The second case involves a 20-year-old female rescued from Kitobo landing in Bufumira sub-county, where she was allegedly sold into forced labour and the sex trade. However, she is currently at the Kalangala Police Station, awaiting reunification with her family.
“Women and girls are promised job opportunities in Kampala and Entebbe, but upon arrival in Entebbe, they are transported by boat to remote islands where escape is challenging. For example, Mazinga is approximately ten hours’ sail from Entebbe’s Nakiwogo landing site, and the journey from Kasenyi landing site to Bubeke takes about eight hours,” Kyakuwa explains.
Survivors have testified that upon reaching these islands, pimps coerce them into prostitution, forced marriages, running bars, restaurants, or selling drugs, primarily marijuana, without providing any compensation.
Kyakuwa elaborated, “As these islands are strategically located near borders, pimps can easily transport the girls and women to Kenya and Tanzania. They exert significant influence and instruct boat owners and operators not to transport these individuals anywhere without their permission.”
“To address their physical and psychological trauma, MTF provides psychosocial support. Some survivors contract Sexually Transmitted Infections, such as HIV/AIDS, and require medical attention. Those who wish to stay in Kalangala are offered opportunities for income-generating activities like poultry and pig farming to help them start anew and care for their children,” Kyakuwa clarified.
For single mothers, the organisation offers sponsorship for their children to alleviate the burden of school fees. Kyakuwa noted that survivors whose lives have stabilised have visited their families and willingly returned to Kalangala in a peaceful manner.