Online sexual abuse, child trafficking headline Arua police, medical officers’ training

“It is not true that every survivor of SGBV will present with physical bruises. There are girls being harassed online .."

By Alex Taremwa
09 December 2021

The second phase of the UNICEF-supported training for police officers and health workers on the collection, preservation and investigation of sexual violence cases involving children happened in select districts countrywide from 30 November 2 December 2021. 

In Arua District, the training incorporated new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children exacerbated by instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook. 

Deputy Assistant Superintendent of Police, Lydia Nambuusi from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters urged participants to expand their investigations beyond the known forms of sexual and gender-based violence to also cover cybercrimes whose effects do not manifest physically. 

“It is not true that every survivor of SGBV will present with physical bruises. There are girls being harassed online by strangers and family members alike sending pictures of their private parts,”

she said. 

A recent study conducted by ECPAT, INTERPOL and UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti found that 12 per cent of the female respondents in Uganda had been asked for a photo or video of their private parts and 19 per cent of these respondents had complied.

D/ASP Nambuusi cautioned police officers who cunningly connive with the parents of some of the survivors to stop investigations into sexual abuse allegations in favour of hushed settlements at the community level which, she noted, deprives the survivors of justice as research has shown that most of the sexual abusers of girls are people the survivor already knows – especially family members. 

The Uganda Police Force’s 2020 Annual Crime Report revealed that 240 of the 301 children defiled by HIV/AIDS positive suspects were, in fact, abused by their parents and guardians.
“While the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Unit within the CID is responsible for the investigation of cases of sexual and gender-based violence, medical workers and probation officers have a key role in the successful prosecution of these cases,” she noted. 

During the three-day training, at least 45 participants from Arua District were trained to collect and preserve forensic evidence vital for prosecution, appropriate filling of medical forms, techniques of interviewing children, among other subjects. 

Child trafficking

The 2009 Anti-Trafficking Act criminalized sex trafficking and labour trafficking and prescribed punishments of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for offences involving adult survivors and up to life imprisonment for those involving child survivors.

In 2020, however, over 98 cases of child trafficking involving 123 survivors were recorded by the Uganda Police Force. Children below 18 years are stuck in involuntary servitude across all major sectors but mostly agriculture, fishing, forestry, cattle herding, mining, stone quarrying, brick making, carpentry, steel manufacturing, street vending, bars, restaurants, gold mining, and domestic service.

According to Rogers Kasirye, the Executive Director of the Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has been fighting child trafficking since the early 1990s, most internal trafficking survivors are children from the Karamoja sub region whom traffickers exploit in forced begging and commercial sex in Kampala.

Despite government efforts to eliminate child trafficking such as the formation of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Department in the Uganda Police Force, reports of corruption and official complicity in trafficking have affected successful investigations and prosecution of trafficking crimes. 

“This training is designed to build the capacity and offer logistical support to the police and key stakeholders to improve on the capability to detect, investigate and effectively prosecute cases of trafficking in persons,”

Nambuusi said. 

From the training, participants recommended that the government approves a formal national mechanism to identify and refer trafficking survivors to appropriate care, expand protective services for survivors through partnerships with NGOs and provide temporary shelter or identify local NGO shelters for survivor referral and facilitate the repatriation of survivors.