If you are an expectant couple, this forewarning is yours. Thieves have found a new merchandise to trade in. – babies.
On 24th January, 2017, Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe of the High Court of Uganda ordered Mulago hospital, the country’s national referral hospital to pay Ushs.85million in general damages to an aggrieved couple. The couple, Michael Mubangizi and Jennifer Musimenta sued the hospital for the disappearance of their twin daughter. To-date, they are unaware of the missing girl’s whereabouts.
Civil society groups like Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), at the center of this and many similar cases cite an increasing number of newborn baby kidnappings. The groups’ concern stem from numerous cases filed against Mulago hospital and other health centers where babies have gone missing in unclear circumstances in addition to other challenges like access to health service providers and medicine faced by expectant mothers. Further reports indicate that many parents are not given access to information on their health status and as thus cannot easily trace their missing babies’ whereabouts or explain the events leading to the thefts.
In her ruling, Justice Lydia Mugambe noted that proper records of patients and their infants are at the helm of the right to health. She noted that referral hospitals like Mulago need to improve their facilities that handle births and deaths of infants. Without these medical records, it is a violation of a patient’s right to health, family and the right to access information as per the Constitutional provisions.
But where are the babies?
I’m certain that they are in the hands of scrupulous beings that carefully craft their mission and finally succeed at forging a family. If a woman or man is desperate to have a child, natural methods are the first options. When he/she considers the alternative, the fundamental requirement is that it is through legitimate avenues. This means that he/she will opt for adoption, guardianship and scientific alternatives.
The alternative is costly but just because child abductions create fear in birth parents who may never recover from the loss in their lifetime. Many parents prefer burying their children to burying empty coffins.
I grew up in a town notoriously known for practicing rituals like child sacrifices. In one incident in 1995, a young girl, Shamim was kidnapped and killed by her uncle. At the time, ear-piercing was forbidden but many parents allowed their children to pierce their ears because rumor had it that witches did not sacrifice children with piercings and scars. When I hear stories of child kidnapping, I remember that little girl.
Today, when a parent loses a child to kidnap, her first fear is ritual sacrifice. But there is another batch of parents that become parents by default. This lot hires con-artists desperate for a quick shilling to abduct newborns from hospitals or wherever they can find them.
Parents, at least responsible ones, will do anything to protect their children. For a woman to carry a child for months, only to have it stolen by some scrupulous person immediately after birth is an injustice.
Like elsewhere, many Ugandan cultures value children as a source of prestige. The more children, the more status. However, the barren, impotent and those with few children suffer social ridicule. Only a few opt for these alternative legitimate ways of having a family. Unfortunately, for financially struggling parents, adoptions (local or foreign) are not for providing a child with a stable family but earning from the adopting family. They sometimes willingly give up their children for money. This batch encourages the vice to spread all over the country.
Considering the central role Mulago hospital plays in Uganda’s health sector, it is not surprising that child theft cases are increasing. Being a government referral hospital, Mulago offers services at a subsidized fee but also is a hub for many patients and cons alike.
I am not surprised though aware and saddened that there is a highly experienced cartel scheming planned abductions and its trade is flourishing because the clientele is increasing.
BY ATUHAIRWE AGRACE
This article appears in our weekly digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 1, Issue 4 of January 27th 2017
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