Interview with Ms Stella Ayo Odongo

This interview with Stella Ayo Odongo was conducted on August 15th, 2016 by the African Child Information Hub.

InfoHub:Thank you Mrs Stella Ayo Odongo for doing this interview with us. Could you tell us what the UCRNN stands for? What have been your activities and achievements so far?

Stella Ayo Odongo: The Uganda Child Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) is a network that brings together child focused national and local organisations working with and for children and that creates a platform where organisations can raise issues of children collectively. We currently number about 250 local organisations and national level organisations as well as international organisations like Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision and Compassion International. These organisations come under the umbrella of the network because they all do work related to children in one way or another.

The network was basically established to do the first shadow report for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The network monitors and reports on progress of implementation on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and on the progress of implementation on the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. It has so far presented 5 shadow reports and two other reports for the Universal Periodic Review.

To ensure that governments implement the commitments they make for children, we, as a network, monitor and track progress on that.

Moreover, we are an advocacy platform. And so, we identify issues and come together and rally around them to push for policy change or legislative amendment or even change in programme. One of the things we did recently was to lobby for the amendment of the Children’s Act which was an obsolete law; and when we did not realise the amendment, we then decided to sponsor a private member’s bill. So it was a civil society sponsored bill that finally was presented to parliament and was enacted into law.

The other way in which we do our advocacy is that we identify organisations, individuals and companies that have made a contribution to the rights of children. We initiated what we call the Tumaini awards (Tumaini is the word that means “hope”) and we award organisations and individuals that have made contributions to the lives of children. Through that we are able to reach out and send the message that people can do whatever they can, in whatever places they are, to change the lives of children. Hence identifying, recognising and inspiring others to follow suite.

We also have been very active in promoting awareness in child rights issues, particularly developing position papers on key issues: we did a civil society position paper on the Post-2015 Agenda which was very instrumental in informing the development of the SDGs. We also mobilised organisations to specifically understand and appreciate the global discussions and national level discussions on issues of children.

InfoHub: Uganda has recently passed the long awaited Children Act Amendment Bill 2015. What are its key amended clauses?

Stella Ayo Odongo: The amendment touched on a number of issues:

  1. One was on the major issue of intercountry adoption, where the existing law was being abused to take children out under what they would call a legal guardianship order. But we caused that to be amended and now legal guardianship is only open to Ugandans and not foreigners. And adoption fostering period has been restricted, reducing it from 36 months to 12 months, to align it to the international provisions of the Hague Convention.
  2. The other one was on corporal punishment; the law now outlaws corporal punishment in school and in institutions. Our intention was to have it in all settings but parliament only passed the one outlawing corporal punishment in schools.
  3. We now have a specific provision on violence against children; the law now clearly defines all forms of violence against children and puts penal penalties on violence against children.
  4. We also have a specific clause on guardianship, now ensuring that legal guardianship is properly legislated, as it was quite loose before.
  5. Then we have a provision on pornography and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
  6. Of course there are a number of new provisions that have come in, that all strengthen the existing laws but one very important one is the creation of a coordinating agency which would coordinate all matters relating to children. That is the creation of the Ugandan National Children’s Authority which has been established by law, and from this law then, that Authority would coordinate child survival, child development, child participation and child protection. 

InfoHub: How do you think this Bill will impact Uganda’s progress towards achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with regards to child rights and wellbeing? What are the challenges ahead?

Stella Ayo Odongo: The Bill definitely enhances the realisation of the SDGs. On Friday , we actually had a consultative/informative meeting of directors of civil society organisations to look at the SDGs; and one of the things that clearly came out is that the law currently enables the implementation of the SDGs because it includes a component of ending violence against children, which is aligned to Goal 16 and Target 16.2.

Goal 16 also talks about justice for children; and the law clearly has the component that is focusing on justice for children, which is also good.

We are also working with organisations to develop a clear strategy on ending violence against children and we are hoping that through that, we then should be able to handle and enable the implementation of Goal 1, Goal, 2, Goal 3 and Goal 5 on property, on violence, on war and conflict and so on and so forth.

InfoHub:What do you think the role of Ugandan CSOs should be in order to effectively support the implementation of the SDGs and the African Vision 2063?

Stella Ayo Odongo: The first one is that we need to get CSOs to promote the information about the SDGs, because neither the SDGs nor the Vision 2063 can be realised unless the people know and own them. Primarily there is going to be awareness creation, and ownership of the vision, secondly, as I mentioned to you before, we are going to be working on an action plan on how to actualise specific goals, by identifying two or three goals of the SDGs which we are going to run with, particularly the child related goals which we are going to push to ensure that they are implemented. We are now partnering with the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to come up with a clear strategy on how to end violence against children, because most of the SDGs will not be realised if the issue of ending violence against children is not addressed. We are working on guidelines done by the Global Partnership on Ending Violence against Children and we are going to promote Target 16.2 and Goal 5 on Women and Girls and also Goal 1 and Goal 16. We are going to be engaging with governments on all of those, to hold governments accountable and to create awareness about those goals. We are also going to make communities aware, creating ownership and also picking up a lot of individual actions that organisations can undertake.

InfoHub: What further legal and policy reforms can Uganda take to further reinforce the rights of its children?

Stella Ayo Odongo: One of the things that we need to be working on, now that the Children’s Act has been passed, is to get the regulations that will operationalize the law.

The other one is to identify subsidiary amendments that are going to happen as a result of the amendments of the Children’s Act. So there are laws that are going to require amending, because of the amendment that has happened in the Children’s Act. But there are also laws that are obsolete, for example we are now having an emerging form of violence against children which is child sacrifice. We are going to see if we can push for further legislation on child sacrifice.

We are also going to strengthen the lobby group in parliament. At times the issues that relate to children may not require legislation and require for example allocation of resources. So one of the meetings we are going to have next week, is going to bring together members of parliament to begin talking about how they can prioritise children and put children at the centre of public debate, centre of policy and centre of resource allocation. So we may not necessarily lobby for legislation but we want to strengthen the voices that will continually raise issues of children on the floor. And so, the parliamentary forum is really important for us and next week we have a meeting that is going to streamline that.

InfoHub: As you may know, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) is developing a General Comment on Article 31 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which addresses the “Responsibility of the Child”. What are the provisions of the Ugandan Children’s Act on the responsibilities of the Child? What are your views on the topic?

Stella Ayo Odongo: We did include the rights of the child in the law and made mention of responsibility. But what we have further done is to begin operationalizing Article 31 of the Charter by developing guidelines or pocket booklets for children that talk about rights and responsibilities. Because increasingly, we realise from the work that we are doing, that a lot of children have been made aware of their rights but rarely told of their responsibilities. That booklet which will be published soon and which we are working on together with our partner Action Aid, where we had an EU program which was looking at ending violence in schools and we were saying that this pocket booklet will be very helpful for children to know their rights and responsibilities. For example, children have a right to health but they also have the responsibility to live healthy and to seek health when they are not feeling well. It is not always about rights, rights, rights but there are also rights and responsibilities.

We have asked a couple of schools to provide us with drawings on what children think about rights, what do they think about responsibilities. So the last illustrations will be collected and we can then produce together a booklet that will be shared and will be disseminated widely to all schools. We are also hopeful we can translate the booklets into local languages so more children are able to understand those linkages.

InfoHub: Thank you very much, Mrs Stella Ayo Odongo, for doing this interview with us.