Source: Annual Report 2013

Each of the three strategic goals of the Bernard van Leer Foundation has a clear range of manifestations affecting young Ugandan children. The two goals in Uganda are:

Reduced childhood mortality and morbidity among young rural children growing up in unhealthy physical environments 

Up to 75% of the disease burden in Uganda is linked to poor personal hygiene and inadequate sanitation. This is a major factor behind Uganda’s national under-5 mortality rate of 90 per 1000 live births – a figure as high as 200 per 1000 in parts of the Northern region. Diseases directly associated with poor environmental health such as diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis and tetanus are the greatest killers of newborns. 

The aspects of the physical environment we find most critical to improve include: access to safe water (1/3 of all households have no access to safe water sources and 28.4% of people walk over 1km to water, where the average wait time is 28 minutes); sanitation (85.8% of the population use pit latrines and nearly 11% have no toilet); and hygiene practices.  We elected to focus on rural areas because that is where 90% of young children (9.6 million) are living. We also believe that addressing this goal will provide a strong foundation for our work in violence reduction and early learning, as we know that high child morbidity is an impediment to success in both areas.

Reduced violence in families with young children in rural areas 

Violence in the family is the most prevalent form of violence experienced by young Ugandan children, both as victims and witnesses. Over 70% of women and 60% of men aged 15-49 agree that a man can beat his wife. Rates of violence are higher in rural areas, where 70% of married woman (compared to 54% in urban areas) reported having experienced violence.  Given these statistics, it can be said that an estimated 6.7 million rural children under 8 have been witness to violence against their mother. 

Smaller studies, including those commissioned by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, suggest that the prevalence of violence against children is even greater in magnitude. The most common forms of violence against young children include caning, slapping, pinching, kneeling, burning, humiliation and denial of food. We will be focusing on the stress faced by parents due to livelihood struggles and on prevailing social norms, and we choose to focus on rural areas as poverty is greater than in urban areas.

Fathers dissuade fathers from violence in Uganda

Milton Orech tells his audience that he is a changed man. Once he was violent to his wife and children. Now he drinks less, his home is peaceful, and he prefers it this way.

He credits his change in behaviour to the men he is addressing, members of one of the Responsive Fatherhood Clubs set up by the Early Steps programme in Uganda, with the Foundation’s support. These are groups of fathers who agree to talk to their male friends about domestic violence, accompanying their wives to antenatal clinics, and getting more involved in childcare. The clubs are part of an overall strategy which also includes work through Village Savings and Loans Associations.

Mr Orech is not alone. An evaluation shows that where the clubs have been operating – in the Apac, Kumi and Nakapiripirit subcounties – the number of families reporting domestic violence has reduced from 66% to 49%, while the number of parents using non-violent methods of child discipline increased from 28% to 60% within one year. The project shows that social norms can be changed – with the right messengers.

Programme strategy

Download a summary of our Uganda strategy, outlining how we are approaching the goals summarised above, and a shorter two-page handout.


Do you have comments on our goals in Uganda? Please contact our Programme Officer for Uganda, Karisia Gichuke:

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