If one parent has the means to provide, but still refuses to do so, it is a criminal offence known as child neglect. The complaining party can report such a case using various avenues. The underlying principle in handling all children’s matters is the welfare principle which basically looks at the best interests of the child. There are both formal and informal avenues.
Informal avenues include
Seek intervention from a trusted family member, religious or cultural leader, a teacher, an elder or any other person who you believe will help in calling both parents or guardian to agree on how best their child can be well maintained. This can be done through a mediation where that trusted person engages both parents/ guardian of the child/ children into reaching a practical solution for the proper maintenance of the child/ children. To learn more about mediation please follow this link.
JCU conducts mediation sessions which involves both parties or guardians coming up with a reasonable understanding. This happens where all parties are invited for a mediation session to come up with a memorandum of understanding.
Formal avenues include
- The Local Government Council Authority
- The Police under the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU)
- The Probation, Social and Welfare Officer (PSWO)
- The Family and Children’s court
In the following paragraphs we will give you an overview about the processes which are followed when choosing a formal avenue.
JCU also assists the aggrieved party in filing a complaint on oath and also supports with court representation in an application for child maintenance.
The Local Government Council Authority
It’s the duty of every local government council from the village to the district level to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children within its area. It’s also the duty of the local government council to designate one of its members to be in charge of Children’s affairs and that person is called a secretary for children’s affairs. It is therefore the responsibility of the Secretary of Children’s affairs to conduct a mediation in situations where children’s rights are being infringed.
Process to be followed;
- Any community member who has evidence of violation of a child’s right e.g.: where the parent is able but refuses or neglects to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care or education shall report to the Local government council of the area.
- Upon receiving the report, the secretary of the children’s affairs shall summon/ call the persons against whom the report was made to discuss the matter.
- The secretary for children’s affairs then makes a decision in the best interests of the child.
- Where the person summoned refuses to comply, the secretary for children’s affairs refers the matter to the village executive committee court which shall adjudicate the matter to give any relief or orders as allowed by the law. In addition, the village executive committee court may order the parent or guardian to execute a bond to exercise proper care by signing an undertaking to provide the child requirements.
- Whoever is aggrieved with the decisions of the village executive committee court can make an appeal to the parish court to the sub county court to the Family and Children’s court to the Chief Magistrate’s court to the High court to the court of appeal to the supreme court in that hierarchical order.
The Police under the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU)
These as well handle child and family related matters and in most cases engage the parents in settling and coming to an agreement on how their children can be maintained. Furthermore, the police can as well help in enforcing the child’s rights and cause arrest of those that violate the same. S.4(3) of the Children’s Act as amended and the offender is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 120 currency points (equivalent to 2.4 million UGX) or imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.
Process to be followed;
- Any aggrieved party can report to the police a matter of child maintenance with an oral complaint to the police officer at the child and family protection desk.
- The officer to whom a complaint is made will register the same and also record a statement from the person who has reported.
- The officer will issue a warrant, summoning the person who has been reported.
- Upon appearing, the police officer may engage both parties into settling the matter and enter into an agreement and reconcile.
- Where parties fail to agree, the police officer shall record all necessary statements and attach all available evidence and forward the file to the state attorney for sanctioning.
- Where the case has merit, the state attorney will sanction the file and cause the same to be brought to court for hearing and determination.
- The court upon conviction may give a fine not exceeding 2.4 million UGX or imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.
NOTE: Since the punishment itself cannot assist in ensuring proper maintenance of the child, the aggrieved party is normally advised to file a civil case for proper orders as seen below under the Family and Children’s court.
These are empowered with responsibilities at the district level to handle all child related matters including child maintenance. The Probation, Social and Welfare Officer can help in ensuring child maintenance through the following ways:
- He/ She can engage the parents or guardian into a mediation for an amicable agreement in the best interests of the child.
- He/ she can make an application to court seeking supervision orders.
Process to be followed for a supervision order or a care oder;
- The PSWO before making the application shall be satisfied that the local government from village to the sub county level where the child resides have dealt with the matter without success.
- If the above is confirmed, the PSWO shall do a home visit and conduct an interview with the parents and with the child in case the child is of sufficient age to understand, for purposes of making a welfare report.
- A welfare report shall be made and shall contain matters relating to the welfare of the child and any recommendations to the actions to be taken by the Family and children’s court.
- The court can go ahead and grant the orders if satisfied with the welfare report.
- A supervision order lasts for a year but can be extended by 1 more year upon application by PSWO and a written report.
What is a care oder?
The social welfare officer can make an application seeking a care order. The care order places the child in the care of a warden of an approved home or with foster parents under the supervision of the probation and social welfare officer. This normally happens where the child needs to be maintained but the circumstances under which the child is living are very unhealthy e.g. an abusive home/ environment. This is to ensure that the child’s needs are well catered for and the proper general welfare of the child. A care order lasts for a maximum of 3 years and can be reviewed at least once a year.
The parental responsibility in this category lies largely on the warden or foster parent. The PSWO has also the responsibility of working together with the parents or guardian to prepare for the child’s return.
The Family and Children’s court
The Family and children’s court is presided over by a magistrate grade 1 and entertains applications in regards to a child’s care and protection. Court can grant orders against both or either parent for maintenance of a child. Court normally looks at who is in a good place financially to maintain the child and its orders can vary depending on the changing circumstances. The proceedings in this court are normally conducted under camera and are as informal as possible.
Process to be followed;
- Any person who has custody of a child and who is a mother, father or guardian to the child can make an application for maintenance against the mother, father or guardian of the child as the case may be.
- An application for maintenance of a child can be made at any time during the subsistence of the marriage, during proceedings for divorce, separation or nullity of marriage, during or after proceedings of declaration of parentage, during separation, during pregnancy and any time before the child attains 18 years.
- The application shall be made by the complaint on oath and the court shall issue summons to be served upon either parent who is being reported and both parties shall be required to attend court on the day mentioned therein.
- On appearance of the person served or proof of service of court summons, the court shall proceed to hear the evidence and having regard to all the circumstances of the case proceed to make orders against the father, mother or guardian as the case may be for the payment of the applicant of the following:
- A Monthly sum of money may be determined by the court having regard to the circumstances of the case and financial means of the father, mother or guardian as the case may be for the maintenance of the child. If court deems it fit, in place of a monthly payment, it may make an order for a lump sum payment to be deposited in court and shall be expended in the maintenance of the child.
- Funeral expenses of the child if the child dies before the grant of the child maintenance order.
- Costs incurred in obtaining the order.
NOTE: Child maintenance includes feeding, clothing, education and general welfare of the child.
NEXT READ: What happens if a person against whom a maintenance order is made refuses to comply?
How does JCU help in child maintenance matters?
- JCU offers legal sensitization to the general public about child maintenance
- JCU conducts mediation sessions which involves both parties or guardians coming up with a reasonable understanding. This happens where all parties are invited for a mediation session to come up with a memorandum of understanding.
- JCU also assists the aggrieved party in filing a complaint on oath and also supports with court representation in an application for child maintenance.
Referral organizations or institutions
The Probation, Social and Welfare Officer (PSWO) of your district
Local Police Stations
_The 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda (Articles 34, 31(4))
_The Children’s Act CAP 59 as amended (S.2_33)
_ The Local council Act CAP 243 as amended
_ The Police Act CAP 303 as amended (S.21 and 31)