“There can be no keener revelation of society’s soul than how it treats its children.” (Nelson Mandela)
Uganda has a population of about 40 million people. 57% of the population includes children below the age of 18. More than half of Uganda’s children are critically or moderately vulnerable, meaning 14% have lost one or two parents.
Around 50,000 children live in orphanages and quite possibly more than that are homeless. These children get subjected to violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. They are at high risk and are likely to face death, poor physical and mental health, HIV/AIDS infection, education problems, displacement, homelessness, vagrancy, and poor parenting skills later in life.
No child wants to be called an orphan. All children need to be parented, protected, and cared for so they can enjoy their full human right s. No community wants to identify any child as an orphan. It is high time to open our families for the orphans and vulnerable children rather than leaving them on the street and in orphanages.
The orphanage should be the last option when all other means have failed, and it should be short term—long-term orphanage care affects a child’s physical, social, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development.
The Uganda alternative care framework outlines the continuum of care where we should help to prevent family separation, provide emergency care, reunite separated children with their parents/relatives, foster care, domestic adoption, inter country adoption. In sum, orphanages should be thought of when all others have failed.
We should preach our noble ‘African Values,’ where a child belongs to the community. Let everybody be responsible for each child’s needs and honor their rights. To ignore a child is like an ostrich that buries its head in the sand. Many may say that this child does not concern me! These children affect all of us. If we do not care for these children today, we are destroying the nation of tomorrow. There will be a more significant challenge.
We must recognize every child as “our child.” Let the children concern all of us. Preparation should also get made before thinking of a baby. Some men in our society, when asked how many children they have, might not be in a position to tell you the real number since they have children from more than five mothers! That is why we see many homeless children now.
Everybody is responsible for the future. Let us combine efforts in helping vulnerable children in whatever way we can. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me (Mark 9:37).”