UGANDA: HIGH POVERTY BURDEN CONDEMNS WOMEN AND CHILDREN TO HIV AND HARD LABOR

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Evelyn Amono invests part of the daily earnings of her children in brick making

The Women go without salaries for months on top of being sexually harassed by their employers. Some are divorced as soon as they test positive for HIV virus while others are abandoned by their husbands on account of their fertility.

“My new husband is unwilling to pay school fees for the children I had with my former husband. He claims he has no money for school fees and providing food to the family. Life is a complete struggle each passing day”

 

GULU-UGANDA:Uganda’s high poverty burden has condemned many women in the countryside to a life of hard labour and odd jobs.

 

In Northern Uganda, many women are stuck in small scale businesses which have failed to grow into medium status due to limited access to micro credits. This status quo has compelled young women into prostitution and the service sector as house helps, waitresses and tea girls and laundry providers in hotels, offices and homesteads.

 

Their stories are telling as they go without salaries for months on top of being sexually harassed by their employers. Those seeking refuge is marriage have been starkly disappointed by abusive relationships and break ups. Some are divorced as soon as they test positive for HIV virus while others are abandoned by their husbands on account of their fertility.

 

The women are left to shoulder the responsibilities of raising the children without any father figure around them. This is the unfortunate story of Evelyn Amono, a 37-year-old resident of Aywee Cubu Village, 4 Kilometers away from Gulu town center in Pece Division in Gulu Municipality.

 

While her relationship started on a positive note by being blessed with four sets of twins, the relationship has completely crashed and condemned the family of Eleven to the daily bread of fruitless struggles.

 

Speaking to Black Start News in a recent interview, Amono said her family now feeds on proceeds derived from selling the family labour and begging. And that her children are the victims in the business. They are working as baby sitters without going to schools.

 

Every morning, Amono distributes the children to their duty stations since their employers are unwilling to let them reside in their homes. Of the ten children Amono has, eight are girls below the age of 13 while two are young boys learning family responsibilities. Each of them fetch just daily incomes of Uganda Shillings 1,000 (about 0.27 US Cent). For the boys, they mostly undertake hard labour dealing in laying or packing bricks in season.

 

For an average family without adequate land to grow adequate family food, it is this income which Amono uses to feed the family. She said suffering is indeed painful. She can’t send her children to study under the Country’s Free Education policy, the Universal Primary Education (UPE) which has significantly boosted school enrolment since 1997 from just under 2 Million to more than 10 million children today.

 

The children dress in rags as they head to duty. At the time of the visit, about noon, Amono was just having a cup of porridge for lunch. She freely spoke about her economic challenges and how she plans to raise the children amidst the difficult economic times.

 

Amono’s woes started in 2012 when her husband died of in a road accident. Back then, the family was living in Loyo Ajonga village in Lalogi Sub County in present day Omoro district.She says his death marked the beginning of the family’s suffering as they were living fairly a decent life. Few years later, Amono fell in love with another man with whom she produced another set of twins. All the while, she believed the relationship would change her fortune having moved to Gulu Town for better business opportunities.

 

“My new husband is unwilling to pay school fees for the children I had with my former husband. He claims he has no money for school fees and providing food to the family. Life is a complete struggle each passing day” she said.

 

Amono’s dilemma has been compounded by the presence of dependent children produced by her brother who got kidnapped by combatants of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel in 2003. Since then, he has never been seen again. He had left behind two children who have been handed to the care of Evelyn Amono, five years later.

 

Amono has vision for setting up a small scale business with parts of the income the children make from their baby sitting jobs. She says she is accumulating part of the money in a family saving. In the meantime, Walter Oryema, the father of the last set of twins just got a job transporting passengers in Gulu Town as a Boda Boda (Motorcycle Taxi). He uses a hired bike to make a living.

 

Amono’s fate is shared by her neighbours, one of whom is Mary Amony, a-47-year old mother of 10 children. She told Black Star News that her marriage broke down after she tested positive for HIV. Her husband ran away to live with another woman in Kitgum district. Amony’s health is failing under Anti-Retroviral Drugs since she is unable to feed well.

 

During days of sickness, the children must work for the family to eat. This has also condemned them to child labour without attending schools.

 

Andrew Onen, the Gulu District Senior Probation Officer says it is against the law of the land to employ young children of school going age. He says Children’s Act, CAP 59, prohibits child labor in Uganda adding that Amono will be advised to send the children to classrooms for them to learn even on empty stomach.

 

According to the 2016 Poverty Assessment, Uganda has reduced monetary poverty at a very rapid rate. The proportion of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 31.1% in 2006 to 19.7% in 2013. In Northern Uganda, the figure is stunning as compared to the 1986 before the dictatorial military government of President Yoweri Museveni came to power through rebellion which robbed the population of Northern Uganda of their hard earned wealth and destroyed their homes and culture.

 

The Acholi sub region alone was food basket for the entire nation Uganda, producing millets, sorghum, pigeon peas and cassava in plenty as well as oil seeds such as ground nuts and Simsim. Malnutrition and food shortage were nonexistent among communities. Today, the poverty is the new normal in the area.

 

Denise Ojok Lukwang, an elder from Bolo clan in Awere sub county in Pader district says the strong culture held the people together in agriculture production groups which ultimately ended the cycle of poverty.

 

“The groups shared free farm inputs and land with those who never had. This protected vulnerable women and widows from hunger and poverty. All households had three nutritious meals a day. Orphans grew up happy and strong members of the society” he stated.

 

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