Ihungu Children's Remand Home in Masindi is in an appalling condition seven months after a High Court judge ordered the immediate overhaul and restoration of the facility.
In March this year, Rose Mpairwe a matron at Ihungu Remand Home was found guilty of the murder of Innocent Kirungi, a child under her care. Mpairwe ordered other child inmates to beat up 14-year-old Kirungi, just three days after he was detained at the home.
Kirungi died from his injuries at a policeman's shamba where he and the other children were forced to work for a paltry 60,000 shillings that was pocketed by the matron.
Appalled by the testimony given, Justice Ralph Ocan sentenced Rose Mpairwe to eight years in jail. He also directed that urgent improvements should be made at Ihungu Remand Home.
The judge said only qualified staff should be employed at Ihungu. Forcing the children into hard labor was to stop immediately and all buildings in the home were to be renovated according to nationally-required standards.
None of this has taken place.
Salama Kugonza, child protection officer with the NGO Child Rights Development Organization, visited Ihungu Remand Home recently. She says the conditions there are horrible.
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This week, there are six boys in detention at Ihungu Remand Home. The other children ran away.
One of the boys says that in August there were 27 children on remand. Three of them were girls. Their whereabouts are unknown and the matron in charge of the home refuses to speak to the media about it.
This does not surprise Salama Kugonza. She says that when Child Rights Development Organization visited the home, they were appalled by the way the home was run.
The children are not allowed to play or study and there appears to be no one in charge. Kugonza says that every night the children, both boys and girls, are left in the care of an older boy, referred by his friends as the ‘Katikiro'; the Prime Minister.
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Ihungu Remand Home is not the only child detention facility in a poor state.
A review of Ugandan remand homes and the National Rehabilitation Center in Kampiringisa released this month by African Prisons Project found that only one remand home has maintained nationally required standards. Fort Portal Remand Home was found exceptional in a system rife with the regular abuse of children's rights, disregard of child protection laws, sub-standard accommodation, poor feeding, no access to the judicial system and abuse by unqualified staff.
Jessica Alupo, the State Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, acknowledges the dire situation in the remand homes. She however says it is not the fault of the Central Government or her ministry.
Alupo says the central government pays for children's food and the salaries of remand home staff and community development officers. She explains that the burden of running the homes is then left to the districts, which are supposed to finance them and ensure prudent management.
Alupo says the problem is that the districts are unwilling to take responsibility for the remand homes. She says government is therefore taking on this burden.
The first Central Government remand home renovation will take place at Arua Remand Home.
Freddie Aggrey Ngobi, the Masindi Chief Administrative Officer, says the district will receive one billion shillings from the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development from the national project to renovate Ihungu. However little is being done right now to improve conditions there.
Ngobi reveals the buildings at Ihungu were condemned, several years ago, as unfit for human habitation. He says he is surprised that the courts still send children there, but doesn't offer alternative accommodation.
Ngobi insists that Masindi is playing its part in supporting the home. He says the district cannot carry the entire burden of financing activities there and accuses that neighboring districts that use it or refusing to cooperate in this.
Until the money from the Central Government arrives, there isn't much hope for an immediate turn around at Ihungu Remand Home and Innocent Kirungi died in vain.
Masindi Bureau Chief