Child sexual abuse and defilement is a burning issue in Uganda. In a study, “Violence against children – The Voices of Ugandan Children and Adults”, by Raising Voices and Save the Children in Uganda more than 75% of the 1400 interviewed children from five districts in Uganda, reported having experienced sexual violence and 20% of the girls reported being forced to have sex. According to The African Report, an international publication dedicated to reporting Africa affairs, more than 20 children are being abused each day in Uganda, adding up to more than 600 children a month. However, this only includes the number of reported cases. Unfortunately, most sexual abuse or defilement cases go unreported. Stigma, underfunded and understaffed police stations with lack of privacy when reporting a crime and the lack of state funded women shelters are some of the main reasons these incidences go unreported by the victims, according to Amnesty International.
U-report is a free SMS based system that allows young people from all over Uganda to speak out on issues occurring in their communities. Each week U-report receives about 200 unsolicited SMSs on the topic of child abuse, which clearly highlights the need for an anonymous and free avenue to report on such sensitive issues within communities.
Recently one of the U-reporters sent in the following SMS to 8500:
“A gal of 8yrs was defiled a few days ago in our area by a 43yr old man, there is enough evidence […], our area police headquarters has refused to work on the case because the gal was defiled from a different area. Right now she's surviving on pain killers, how can you best help this child."
The SMS was tagged as important by the U-report system and UNICEF-Uganda staff were able to pick it up. Through a real time SMS dialogue between the U-reporter and the U-report team, they were able to retrieve more important information about the girl and the case. This vital information helped the Safe unit (child protection) at UNICEF –Uganda to inform the central police station in Kampala, who then followed up with the local police in the victim’s district. Within a week the police had arrested the rapist and the girl is reported recovering well.
To further explore the vulnerability of young girls in Uganda, U-report sent out a poll for the International Day of the Girl Child last year asking: “Do you think the Government is doing enough to protect the girl child where you live? Reply with YES or NO and why.” The result of the poll was that 44% of all U-reporters answered “No”. A U-reporter from Oyam district wrote “Gov’t hasn’t protected girl child because when a girl is defiled no gov’t official follows up” and another U-reporter from Kamuli district wrote “No, because when a girl child get pregnant. She is chased away from school. Gov’t should train and help girls to into vocational and self-help projects of making soap, crafts”.
The results of the case clearly indicates some of the ways that U-report is a key tool for youth in Uganda to raise their voices about issues in their community, especially when it comes to sensitive topics such as sexual abuse and defilement. If this U-reporter had not sent a SMS to U-report the case could have easily gone unreported and the girl could have likely gone without treatment.