Child Poverty in Uganda
by Peter Georges

Half the population of Uganda is under the age of
fifteen.  There are 2.7 million orphans in a total
population of 36 million.  When Uganda’s prolonged and
violent civil war drew to a close in 1986 and the country
started rebuilding, the AIDS pandemic hit with full force.  
The result of these two devastating blows, combined
with pervasive malaria and poverty, is that a large
percentage of the “middle adult” age group has been
wiped out.  Children are being cared for by
grandparents, aunts and uncles, and neighbors, and
some are on their own.  Many young adults find
themselves without parents—and without the wisdom,
guidance, and safety net that parents normally provide.  

Education is extremely important in Uganda.  Parents,
guardians, and children see education as their best way
of escaping a lifetime of poverty—scraping by as
subsistence farmers or unskilled labor.  Although
primary education is partially subsidized by the
Ugandan government, no schooling is completely
without cost.  The place of education in the Ugandan
family’s priorities is evident in the fact that hospital and
clinic admissions regularly drop off during the three
times a year when school fees are due.  Parents
choose to do without medical care in order to keep their
children in school.  Although fees and expenses are low
compared to western standards, they are still beyond
the reach of many Ugandans, especially for people who
are caring for orphaned children of relatives and friends
as well as their own.

The sprawling urban slum surrounding the capital city of
Kampala presents additional problems.  Families and
©2008-2017 St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund
Most of our children live in neighborhoods like this one.
individuals have migrated from the villages looking for a
better life.  Substandard housing is spreading in all
directions faster than the municipal infrastructure can
keep up.  Pit latrines are hastily constructed near fresh
water sources.  Unpaved roads turn into rivers of mud
during rainy season and flood the low lying areas where
epidemics of cholera and other water-borne diseases
are a regular occurrence.

The mass migration has also undermined the social
safety net left behind in the rural village.  The
temptations of city life—alcohol, drugs, and
prostitution—destroy an already fragile family structure.  
Most of our children are fatherless, either by death or
abandonment.  Many are motherless from the same
causes.  Too many have lost both parents.  

Defilement of school-age girls is a common occurrence.  
Rape is always a danger as girls travel to and from
school through risky neighborhoods during dawn and
dusk.  Defilement is not always involuntary.  Because of
extreme poverty, many girls are tempted by the promise
of a little money to buy food or clothing.  The most at
risk are the girls in the upper primary classes.  Some
are well into their teens by the time they reach sixth or
seventh grade because their academic progress was
delayed due to lack of school fees.  The cost of
secondary school is prohibitive for most families and
these girls see no hope for their future.  This
hopelessness leaves them vulnerable to the advances
of unscrupulous men.  By contrast, girls who are
enrolled in secondary school are much less likely to
engage in risky behavior.  Most are very serious about
their education and appreciate the opportunity they’ve
been given.