A Ugandan court has imposed a fine of $28,000 (17.2 million FCFA) on a US couple for their guilty plea to charges of child cruelty and “inhumane treatment” of their 10-year-old foster child. Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer, originally from South Carolina, accepted these charges as part of an agreement in which more severe accusations were dropped.
The couple had initially faced charges of child trafficking and torture, offences that could have led to a life sentence. Their nanny reported their mistreatment of the child, citing “repeated unbecoming inhumane treatment,” which included making him sleep on a wooden platform and giving him cold food. This incident was brought to the attention of local authorities in December of the previous year.
The young boy, who has special needs, had been living with the Spencers for two years before their arrest. Additionally, they pleaded guilty to degrading treatment, working illegally, and remaining in Uganda without the required permits. For these charges, they were sentenced to two months in prison, a term they had already served following their arrest.
High Court Judge Alice Kyomuhangi further ordered the couple to provide the victim with compensation of 100 million Ugandan shillings. During her ruling, Judge Kyomuhangi expressed concern for the child’s well-being, acknowledging that he needed help and support due to the loss of his father and abandonment by his mother. She also criticised the accused for failing to adequately address the boy’s unique behavioural challenges.
“The child was in need of help and support, having lost his father and having been abandoned by his own mother. Unfortunately, the accused persons failed to manage his peculiar behaviours,” the judge said.
David Mpanga, the couple’s attorney, informed Reuters that the child had psychiatric issues and suggested that the Spencers’ lack of parenting experience contributed to their inability to care for him properly.
The Spencers had been fostering three children in Uganda since 2017 when they moved to the country to volunteer. This case has incited outrage among some Ugandan child rights activists, who perceive it as a miscarriage of justice. Proscovia Najjumba, an activist, questioned how the couple could “walk away” after admitting to “mistreating a child.”
Darren Namatovou, the founder of the Phoenix Children Foundation, emphasised the importance of conducting thorough due diligence and background checks during the adoption process to prevent instances of child abuse. International adoptions have been a contentious issue in Uganda, leading to recent changes in the law aimed at closing what the government described as a loophole used for child trafficking.
Mimi Mefo Info