By Rukiya Makuma
Emin Baro’s case opens lid on Uganda’s worst kept secret
Today is a sad moment for the Ugandan woman,” Miria Matembe the Executive Director of Centre for Women in Governance started off on a sad note.
“We can not allow this to happen, this is an insult to us, we condemn in the strongest term the manner in which the case was handled and as women who fought so hard to liberate our fellow colleagues, this is a set back to us,” she continued.
“These tourists come here in the name of touring yet they have sinister moves behind, they come and exploit our young children. It is time for government to find a solution to these sex tourists, otherwise we stand a chance of letting down the nation if we fail to protect our children,” Patricia Atim from the Public Interest Law Clinic Makerere University added.
The two were among 40 women activists gathered at the Federation for Women Lawyers (FIDA) offices in Kampala on March 29 to condemn Emin Baro, a 53-year old Macedonian man who entered the country as a tourist but has been detained over alleged serial paedophilia.
Baro had earlier on March 26 been sentenced by a magistrate to two years in jail or pay a fine of shs 6 million for “misuse of a computer” after he was found in possession of pornographic material. Nakawa Magistrate’s Court heard that Baro lured young girls to commit sex acts on him as he filmed the proceedings. He would then sell the pornographic content to other social websites. He would pay the girls between shs 2000 and shs 5000. He is accussed of having molested about 50 children from different areas from Masaka, Kampala and Jinja.
Aaron Besigye, the Head Legal and Pro-bono service- advocate at Uganda Law Society says there are various offences under which various laws that would have been preferred.
“Misuse of the computer act was the least case they would charge Baro with. We call upon the judges to press more charges against him,” he said.
Maria Nassali of FIDA said the sentence marked a day of lamentation for women. She said Baro should instead have been charged with over 50 cases of defilement for each of the 50 girls he molested.
“He defiled the children and intended to use the material on his social website, how will the shs 6 million help the victims who fell prey to this man. How will they be compensated, their plight has not been mentioned by anyone,” Nassali said.
Anselm Wandega, the Programmes Coordinator at African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect, said the sentence was very light. “Baro was supposed to have been handed life sentence in prison. We as ANPPCAN have written to the Directorate of Public Prosecution’s office and we have been assured that that a stronger punishment will be given to Baro,” Wandega said.
The activists say Baro’s case, as a tourist who entered the country six years ago, brings to light the increasing sex tourism most of which goes unnoticed. A 2011 study commissioned by Acting for Life/Air France , estimates that the number of children affected by commercial sexual exploitation in Uganda has increased from 12,000 to about 18,000 between 2004 and 2011, with more girls affected by the practice.
A 2011 ANPPCAN study carried out a study in Jinja District also revealed that many tourists engaged in child pornography, especially near beaches.
The booming tourism industry with an influx of foreign tourists has been blamed for the increased paedophile cases according to a 2007 UNICEF survey that was carried out in Kenya. The survey established that the vice had increased in countries where tourism is considered as a major foreign exchange earner. In Uganda tourism is considered a major foreign exchange earner and many initiatives have been put in place to encourage more foreigners in the country.
The Panos report on the status Child Sexual Abuse in East Africa published in July 2011 points out that regionally child sex tourism is on the increase especially in Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenya). There is however scanty information and statistics on child sex tourism in Uganda because there has not been enough research that has been carried out on the subject.
The Panos report says some child attackers are situational abusers who unscrupulously take advantage of a situation where African governments have no laws in place to handle cases of sex tourism.
At the FIDA conference, speaker after speaker condemned the action and sentence.
“How did the case come to the first grade magistrate’s court, how could a woman do that, we call for an investigation, that man should be punished for his crimes, two years is just a slap on the wrist,” Matembe agitatedly continued.Baro remained in detention despite having paid the fine of Shs 6 million as per his sentence. It is unclear if, what, and when fresh charges will be brought against him. Earlier Police spokesperson Asuman Mugenyi, who also handles the child protection unit, said they wanted to prefer charges of aggravated defilement, but had not arrested Baro in action.However on March 30, the office of the DPP said they would not press fresh charges on Baro because the office has no concrete evidence to charge him for other crimes including defilement since it has no information including who the children are and where they are from. Wandega says it is up to the DDP’s office to go back and get sufficient evidence from the victims and he called upon the victims to come out and provide investigators with evidence so that he gets a sentence that he deserves.The women activists called for the amendment of the Children Act because it does not have specific provisions on child pornography. The women called upon government to come up with strong laws that will curtail sex tourists from flooding the country and taking advantage of the vulnerable children by luring them with monetary gifts.
Baro’s case has been referred to the High Court but the women activists demand that Uganda starts implementing its laws otherwise many young children are going to be abused.