KAMPALA, Uganda: The truth may take several years to be unearthed, or perhaps never will it emerge. This is the pain, a couple, Jennifer Musimenta and Michael Mubangizi have experienced for five years now.
Though justice seemed to have been delivered by the High Court Judge Lydia Mugambe, early this year, the couple whose one set of twins went mysteriously missing from the National Referral hospital in Mulago in 2012, are yet to enjoy the benefits of Justice Mugambe’s ruling.
The story begun with labour pains on March 14th 2012 that prompted Musimenta to go to Mulago for delivery. Though she expected to give birth to a baby, she produced twins that night but upon discharge the next day, she was handed only one baby. The demand for the second baby begun. Surprisingly, three days after Musimenta gave birth she was given a dead baby on 17th March 2012. The couple reported the matter to police that ordered for a DNA whose results proved negative.
With support from the Center for Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), Musimenta and Mubangizi begun the long protracted ‘war’ for justice in Uganda’s courts. The Investigator has in its findings discovered that the demand and hunt for children by couples lacking kids is on the rise. Desperate women in need for children can cough between Shs3M to Shs15M to desperate and poorly paid midwives and doctors at Mulago hospital.
Doctors and nurses are helping with stealing newborns from their unsuspecting parents at this facility. Police investigations reveal that some staff at Mulago Hospital collude with childless Ugandan couples to steal newborn babies. The Investigator has established that some other babies are being sold to foreigners between $1,000 (shs3.6m) to $5,000 (Shs18m).
Many mothers are either told their kids are dead, while those who produced twins like the case of Musimenta are given one child. For the case of Musimenta, the midwife who handled her, Mariam Mandida is the only one who knows where the second twin is and how much perhaps she was given for that particular baby.
What is surprising thought is that despite the ruling by Justice Lydia Mugambe that Musimenta and Mubangizi be paid Shs85M as general damages for violations, this is yet to be implemented. Justice Mugambe ruled that the couple’s right to information and health were violated by the failure of Mulago hospital to provide them with information on their dead baby.
The couple who had initially demanded for shs300 million compensation are yet to get the awarded shs85million. For her decision, Justice Mugambe won an international award, the People’s Choice Gavel Award, gaining the most votes in the annual Gender Justice Uncovered Awards hosted by Women’s Link Worldwide.
Amidst this backdrop, the police has again come under attack for failing to implement the High Court order. Though Justice Mugambe directed the police to conclusively investigate the disappearance of the baby and file a report on the same in court within 6 months from the date of judgment, this is yet to be done.
Mariam Mandida, the midwife who handled the baby at birth is still free though court directed that she be held accountable for movement of the baby under her care. The Investigator during a recent visit to Mulago failed to establish whether authorities were implementing the High Court order that directed it to take steps to ensure and enhance the respect, movement and safety of babies, dead or alive in its facilities.
Details on baby thefts remain scanty and officials do not know how widespread it is. A police report released last year said there were 261 cases of child theft over a 12-month period, but that includes teenagers who are duped to go abroad for work but are forced into sex trade.
Mulago hospital management revealed to the Investigator that once nabbed engaging in child theft, the staff are always suspended and handed over to police for prosecution. Giving an example of a one Asinja Kapuru, who was suspended after it emerged that he had swapped a live baby for a dead one.
Asinja Kapuru personally confessed to swapping a healthy baby for a dead one after being confronted with the results of a DNA test. Dr Okullo, who heads the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council, said hospital workers who steal babies are motivated by money in a country where public health professionals are poorly paid and overworked.