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Adoption is Now the Rage in Uganda


Moses Talemwa

The Kampala Observer

Kampala — US singer Madonna could have avoided all the trouble she went through while adopting a child from Malawi, if she had sought a Ugandan child instead. That is the verdict of High Court Deputy Registrar, Family Division, Batema Ndikabona.

The registrar confirms that indeed more foreign nationals are adopting Ugandan children and the hurdles in the adoption process are not as pronounced as in Malawi (read Madonna's case).

Batema's conclusion follows a case in which a Canadian consular officer, Darryl Hyard, travelled from his office in Nairobi to inquire about the growing number of Ugandan children, whose guardians were turning up in his office to seek visas to Canada.

The Canadian official was concerned that children as young as two years were being offered for adoption even though the law provides for legal guardianship after the child has had two years of bonding with the intending parent. However, the registrar says the court reserves the right to grant a parent legal guardianship at any time.

Regardless of that, the process of adopting a child is quite tedious. The process usually starts with a visit to a certified orphanage where one selects a child. After selection, a social worker from the orphanage visits the home of the adopting parent to make a report on whether the parent is suitable.

A Probation Officer in the division is also supposed to make an independent report on the candidate parent's suitability. Those reports are given to the candidate parent, who attaches them to a formal letter to the High Court Registrar in charge of the Family Division seeking permission to foster a child.

Fostering a child refers to bonding with the child for three years before the court can determine that the parent is suitable. In the meantime, the parent posts a photograph of the child in the papers to ensure the registrar forwards the matter to the judge who holds a hearing and decides on the matter.

The adoption process remains with many loopholes though. According to the registrar, there is no government department to represent the child's interests in court.

Batema says the probation officers and social workers, as well as the Education or Youth ministry should present reports to the State Attorney who would then advise the court on how to proceed, but this never happens. Instead, those reports are handed to the candidate parent, who is also an interested party in the matter.

In addition, the High Court can only rely on affidavits from the probation officers to determine whether the parent will be suitable for the child. Thus it is impossible for the court to determine independently that the candidate parents will turn out to be harmful. However, Batema says the High Court attempts to rule in the best interests of the child.

Most non-Ugandan nationals who receive legal guardianship for Ugandan children are supposed to register them at Ugandan embassies abroad, but there is no follow-up to ensure that these children are well settled in. About 65 children were given out last year, compared to just over half of that in 2007.

But not all children are adopted in court. In fact, more children are handed over to indigenous guardians without having to go to court. Court officials say most churches in the country run children's homes, where orphans and other abandoned children are raised until a guardian can be found to look after them.

Some indigenous families will pick children from these homes and raise them as their own. In many cases these adoptive parents do not want the children to know that they were adopted. However, a few stand out. Now an accomplished singer, Pastor Wilson Bugembe was picked up by a Christian, who took the young boy to church one Sunday, where one John Mbogo took him on.

However, Mbogo, who was also the director of Highway College, died shortly after adopting the young Bugembe along with his brother Brian. But Mbogo's wife, Maureen, decided to keep the boys along with many other children.

Bugembe has since given back to society and now lives in Nansana with a large family of teenagers, infants and others that he has adopted, including some who completed their studies at High Way College but have nowhere to go.

Some adoptive parents say they are not interested in going to court, but do it (adopt children) out of their love of God. "I do it so that the glory of God can shine through," Pastor Bugembe says.

Life wouldn't be the same if I hadn't been adopted - Bugembe


Pastor Wilson Bugembe, 25, attributes his success in life to the fact that he was adopted at a very young age, and that his adoptive parents were good to him. Bugembe, a former street boy orphaned by AIDS, was adopted by Stephen (RIP) and Maureen Mbogo. The couple treated him even better than their biological children, he says.

"You never know, maybe life would have been different if I had grown up with my biological parents, but since I did not see much of them, I am very sure that Maureen has a very big place in heaven for her role in bringing me up," Bugembe says.

According to the pastor, the Mbogo family loved him beyond measure and "did not look at me as a failure but they moulded me for the future."

Bugembe, together with Wilfred Rugumba and Ben Kibumba now run an orphanage, Mercy Childcare Home. Located in Namusera, Wakiso District, Mercy Childcare Home has over 80 children. And Bugembe has to see to it that they live a better life and are trained for the future.

"I'm just the head of the home but there are so many people helping me run it and those who give us offers.

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I like seeing young boys and girls live a promising life, that is why I like Ms [Rita] Nkemba whose Dwelling Places caters for more than 1,000 children," says Bugembe. The pastor says more people should be encouraged to care for and adopt disadvantaged children.

Bugembe, now a celebrated gospel artist, believes that if a child who has been suffering is adopted and given better opportunities, they end up working harder and aiming higher all the time.

"Because God makes you go through difficult times, you work very hard to change the world," he says.

Bugembe, also a senior pastor of Light the World Church, however wishes that people who adopt children try to let them keep some of their ancestral traits.

"I hope government puts a law in place to bar people who adopt children from trying to change their identity," he said.

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