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President Museveni signs Children Act (Amendment) Bill 2015 into Law

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) congratulates the Government of Uganda onthe recentsigningofThe Children Act (Amendment) Bill 2015therebyturning it into law.

The President assented to the Bill on 20th May 2016, whichcame after theBill was passedby the Parliament of Uganda in March 2016.

"This is amilestone for the children of Uganda!"said Ms.Aida Girma, UNICEF's Representative in Uganda. "I congratulate the President and the Government of Ugandafor thismajorachievement, which now puts in place the legislationrequired for all children's fundamental rights to be legally protected."

The amended Children's Act is significant in that itestablishes new protective legislation regarding the guardianship of children,inter-country adoption, andcorporal punishment, among other issues.

The old Act, Cap. 59,focused on the basic needs of the child,leaving gaps in thelegalprotection of allchild rights according to the United NationsConvention 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 CRCin 1990, committing itself to putting children firstso that they grow, survive and reach their full potential.

The ratification wasfollowed by the enactment of the Children's Statute in 1996, which defined child rights as meetingthe basic needs of the child such as food, shelter, housing, clothing, education and health;but, critically,did not include the protection ofother human rights, such ascivil and political rights.

Due to the gaps containedtherein, Civil Society begancalling for a more rights-focused Statute which led to the amendmentprocess that ended in March 2016, when the Children Act Amendment Bill 2015 was passed by the Parliament of Uganda.

Key amendments

Key amendments in theChildren Act Amendment Billinclude:

Clause 4: whichnow comprehensively provides for thefull 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; andto be treated without discrimination.

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

Clause 8: which protects children fromharmful 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, andwork underground, amongdangerous heights, and withdangerous machinery.It stipulates thatthe age of admission for employment is 16 years of age, in line with theEmployment Act.

Clause10: 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; thatGuardianship isonly possible if there areno 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, whichrequires: the child to be infoster care for at least12 months; adoptive parents to provide periodic reports on the child; an Adoption Agency to be created to handle adoption applications; andstops 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 thedeath sentence for a person below 18 years and adults whose offence was committed when s/hewas below the age of 18 years.

Clause 106A: whichprohibits 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 lookforward tosupportingthe implementation of the Act across different sectors;popularising the new Act through theproduction and dissemination of child friendly materials in both English and local languages; andadvocating for the scale-upof national programmes related to the Act at both national and sub-national levels,"noted Ms. Girma.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Distributed by APO (African Press Organization) on behalf of UNICEF Uganda.
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