It is only natural that parents would protect, take care of and raise their children, with whatever means available. But that is the expected. More often than not the unexpected happens, and always leaves individuals and entire communities shaken.
Take for instance the case of Gloria Ainembabazi, 17 and her fifteen-year-old brother, Brian Agaba. As toddlers they lost their father to a road accident, and everyone expected their mother to stick with them and raise them. Instead she left them with relatives, feigning going to find employment in Ntungamo town. She has never been seen again.
The next they heard in relation to her wasn’t that she was coming home to take care of her dear ones. Instead, it was, “We just heard that our mother had sold our land. Even the buyer called us and told us that he had bought the land. Since we don’t live where our home should be, we had no idea what was going on. The buyer had already started tilling the land and he told us to find our mother if we had any questions,” reveals Ainembabazi.
Ainembabazi and Agaba live with their mother’s sister, who together with other relatives is paying for their secondary education at Nyakayojo Secondary School. But they are aware that their aunt will not take care of them forever. Agaba says that he knows that at some point in their lives they will have to fend for themselves, and a piece of land is always a secure fall-back position.
In search for answers, they got in touch with their mother on a phone number she had occasionally used to speak to their aunt.
“She admitted that she had indeed sold the land. She asked me to bear with her, that she sold it because she had some problems. That is all she told me. The phone has since been switched off,” Ainembabazi says.
Realizing that they were not going to get their questions answered by the guilty party, they decided to take matters to the law. They approached the LC 3 Chairperson, who advised them to go to court, and directed them to UGANET, where they could get free legal representation.
According to the soft-spoken Ainembabazi, it was a tough battle, but one that was well won.
“The UGANET officials summoned the buyer, and he presented his papers. He had paid money for the land and the only option we had was to go to court. Now we know that when we are old enough to be on our own, we can return home, to our land,” she says, as her face breaks into a wide grin.
Her brother is glad that now that the battle is over, he can concentrate on school, saying, “Sometimes we would be at school and they would come to pick us up when the officials are coming to survey the land. I would miss school on those days. Am glad it is now all over.”
Agaba and his sister are already making plans for putting their land to use. They are hiring it out to neighbours to plant their food, on the arrangement that when the crops are harvested, the latter replace them with a banana plantation.
The entire village seems to rally behind the teenagers, saying that the land had been wrongfully sold. Their aunt and guardian, Scovia Kyoheirwe, says she didn’t find any difficulty in going to court and standing against her estranged sister’s actions.
She says, “I know that this land was bought by these children’s father from my mother. Am helping to raise these children, but they will need to build their own lives in future and if they have some land that will be easy. I had to defend them.”
Their grand mother, who was the owner of the land before their father bought it, says she can only be glad that her grand children will have a place to live, though she still cannot understand the reasons for her daughter’s actions.
UGANET has made in-roads into making communities in Uganda aware of children’s rights and the law as a foundation for protecting the orphaned and vulnerable like Ainembabazi and Agaba.
In 2010, the organisation conducted dialogues on Human Rights, Children’s rights, HIV/AIDS and the Law in its five districts of operation, in which over 170 orphans and vulnerable children participated. In Ntungamo alone, about 30 children in such situations came to learn about the options available to them in case their rights are violated. Local and district leaders were also educated on the same matters.