In Uganda, Tackling a Vicious Social Ill Head-On
By Samara Madhvani
The 19th of December 2006 was just another ordinary day for Santos John and Leah Labeja, a couple who lives in Soroti, Uganda—until they found the mutilated body of their four-year-old son Gideon. A man who lived on Santos’ property had lured Gideon away from his house using a musical Christmas card. He cut off Gideon’s tongue and killed the child.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual case, and there have been over 60 reported cases of child sacrifice and over 100 cases of missing children in Uganda over the last three years. Child sacrifice extends beyond Uganda, and is an issue in several other African countries.
This has recently become an issue of immense concern in modern Uganda—but the brutal practice has deep antecedents in the culture. Shockingly practitioners transcend all socio-economic strata, including the well educated, and indulge in occultism and ritual murders in order to secure economic prosperity, blessings, and good fortune from the underworld.
In the instances where the police are able to catch the perpetrators of child sacrifice, they are usually set free as there is no specific penal code under Uganda’s constitution dealing with child sacrifice.
The International School of Uganda (ISU) has been at the forefront of the fight to put an end to this heinous practice, with efforts including creating a moving petition against child sacrifice, holding rallies to draw attention to the cause, and creating a number of “art for social change” projects. Samara Madhvani, a Grade 12 student who has been an active participant in this campaign, has set up and manages the website of the Gideon Foundation against Child Sacrifice (http://www.gideonfoundation.com), an NGO set up by Santos Labeja.
Recently, students and faculty from the International School of Uganda, with the help of legal counsel, were invited to address the Ugandan Parliament to lobby and present a draft bill, which would illegalize the practice of child sacrifice.
Santos Labeja, Gideon’s father, shared his views on the tragedy that struck and tore down his family: “Perpetrators of this brutal crime use every cunning method to lure innocent little children, or even unsuspecting adults, to their death without raising the slightest suspicion. It is tragic that people undertake such a thing, and I hope that no other parent has to experience the pain and heartbreak that my family and I went through.”
Under the eye of local press and television coverage, ISU students were given their chance to demonstrate the results of years of effort and commitment to the cause, present the draft bill, and show a documentary they had organized with Nina Saada, a journalist at NBC and ITN; the documentary won the BJTC award for Best Documentary of 2008-2009.
In a moving address, a speaker of Parliament praised the student efforts and committed Parliament to addressing the bill on the matter of child sacrifice.
In a powerful demonstration of student action, ISU students have made a difference—one that will save the lives of many who might otherwise become the tragic victims of an underground practice, which has so far gone unpunished in many parts of this developing nation.
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