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Key findings
  • More than half (54%) of Ugandans say parents are “never justified” in using physical force to discipline their children. Opposition to the practice has risen by 5 percentage points since 2017.
  • About the same proportion (55%) say the use of physical force to discipline children is an infrequent occurrence in their community, though 45% disagree.
  • Nearly six in 10 Ugandans (57%) say child abuse, mistreatment, and neglect are “not very frequent” or “not at all frequent” in their community, while 42% describe it as common.
  • But almost two-thirds (64%) say out-of-school children are a common problem. ▪ Fewer than half of Ugandans say help is available in their community for abused, mistreated, or neglected children (47%), children with disability (44%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (36%). o Poor citizens and rural residents are particularly likely to report that such assistance and support are not available in their community.
  • A majority (54%) of Ugandans say their government is doing “fairly badly” or “very badly” at protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development vision of “a world which  invests in its children and in which every child grows up free from violence and  exploitation” cuts across many of its goals, from providing education and health care to  eliminating poverty, child marriage, and female genital mutilation (United Nations, 2015). 

In Uganda, the government has backed protection, care, and support for all children  with an arsenal of policies, programmes, and guidelines, including a National Child  Policy, National Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children Policy, National Social  Protection Policy, and National Parenting Guidelines. In addition to community-based  services supported by nongovernmental oranisations, government support centres exist  to address particular needs (e.g. for education and physical rehabilitation), though their  coverage is still limited by resource constraints (Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social  Development, 2004, 2015, 2018, 2020; Ministry of Education & Sports, 2017; Truell, 2019). 

Despite the government’s efforts, many Ugandan children confront enormous barriers to  a healthy upbringing. According to the most recent Demographic and Health Survey,  almost three in 10 children under age 5 are stunted due to malnutrition, 85% of children  under age 15 experienced a violent disciplinary action during the previous month, and  43% of women aged 25-49 married before they turned 18 (Uganda Bureau of Statistics,  2018).  

The Uganda Violence Against Children Survey reported that one in three girls and one in  six boys experience sexual violence, while six in 10 girls and seven in 10 boys suffer  physical violence (Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, 2017). 

Between 2016 and 2021, the Uganda Police Force recorded 169,632 cases of violence, abuse, and neglect involving children (Uganda Police Force, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020,  2021). 

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in Round 9 (2021/2023) of the  Afrobarometer questionnaire to explore Africans’ attitudes and perceptions related to  child welfare.  

In Uganda, findings show that a majority of citizens oppose the use of physical force to  discipline children and say the practice is not common in their community. 

More than half also describe child abuse and neglect as infrequent, though a substantial  minority disagree. Out-of-school children are more widely seen as a common problem. 

Fewer than half of Ugandans say help is available in their community for children who  are abused or neglected, children with disability, and children and adults with mental of  emotional problems. 

Overall, a majority of citizens give the government poor marks on promoting the well being of vulnerable children.

Stevenson Ssevume Male

Stevenson Ssevume Male is an associate researcher with Hatchile Consult Ltd. in Kampala, Uganda.