Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Uganda: High Court orders Government to ensure community services for children with autism

By Validity Admin 25th March 2022


The High Court in Uganda has found the Government in violation of the human rights of children with disabilities in a case related to a child with autism. In a landmark judgment, Justice Winifred Nabisinde found that failure by the Government to provide rehabilitation and habilitation services to the child amounted to a violation of the right to equality and non-discrimination in breach of the country’s obligations under international human rights law. As a result, the High Court ordered the Government and other relevant stakeholders to develop Guidelines that will allow early detection and assistance for children with autism in Uganda, ensuring the full development of their potential. Furthermore, the Government has been ordered to report back to the Court and to the parties annually for the next five years on the progress of the development of these Guidelines.  

Perez Mwase suing through his sister and mother, alleged that he has been discriminated because of his disability. Perez’s situation was brought to Validity’s attention in 2016 when he was 12 years old. Validity’s staff travelled to his home on several occasions together with national lawyers David Kabanda (Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights – CEFROHT) and Primah Kwagala (Women’s Probono Initiative – WPI). Despite reaching out to many different Government services, Perez’s family did not receive help on how to support him to develop his skills and abilities, or to protect him from the effects of stigma and discrimination in the community. As a result, Perez’s health deteriorated, and he could not enjoy other fundamental rights such as the rights to inclusion in the community, dignity, and physical and mental health guaranteed in the Ugandan Constitution and international law. Esther Naigaga, Perez’s sister was ecstatic that the court ruled in her brother’s favour. She stated “I felt good. I can’t explain the feeling, but I was happy that court made a decision in favour of my brother.”

This judgment is a welcome relief for children with disabilities in Uganda who are often denied necessary supports and services. They are frequently abused, exploited and excluded by society, denying them their rights to equality, freedom from violence and education. Derrick Kizza, the Executive Director of Mental Health Uganda in welcoming the judgment stated:

 “The greatest disability relates to the inability to recognise the barriers to inclusion for people with disabilities. The precedent set in the judgment provides signs that the judiciary is starting to understand and appreciate the unique needs of people with intellectual disabilities and their struggles in access to justice in Uganda. It is a huge milestone in the fight against stigma that they, together with their families, have to endure on a daily across all spheres of life”.

Validity welcomes this decision and calls upon the Government of Uganda to ensure that children with disabilities are guaranteed the right to equality and non-discrimination. Equality and non-discrimination are among the most fundamental principles and rights of international human rights law and are guaranteed in Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which Uganda signed and ratified in 2008. Because they are interconnected with human dignity, they are the cornerstones of all human rights. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016 called upon the Ugandan Government to provide legal protection against disability-based discrimination, and the multiple and intersectioning forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities including children with disabilities. In addition, the Committee requested the Government to ensure that the enactment of the rehabilitation and health-care policy on disability is fast tracked and in line with the CRPD. This policy should prioritise rehabilitation and habitation services available at the community level where they will be accessible to children with disabilities like Perez.

Stephan Kabenge from Amaanyi Center for Rehabilitation-Entebbe welcomed the judgment and agreed with the Court that there is a need to have more rehabilitation services within the community that will assist children with disabilities. Mr. Kabenge stated:

“We believe that the success of this case marks a turning point in the movement for the rights of children with intellectual disabilities in Uganda. For too long children have suffered, being hidden or tied due to the misunderstanding of their condition and lack of access to resources. At the Amaanyi Center for Rehabilitation-Entebbe, we have seen children and adults achieve their potential when given what they need to succeed. We are grateful to the court for this ruling and are eager to work with government and civil societies to ensure the rights violated to date will be recognised for all children.”

The judgment also highlighted the stigma that children with disabilities face within the community. In Uganda, some communities believe that disability is a “curse”. Due to these beliefs and myths, families with children with disabilities are often discriminated against and ostracised within their own communities. In line with this judgment and guidance of the CRPD Committee, Validity is calling upon the Government of Uganda to support programmes increasing awareness of the rights and dignity of children with disabilities with the aim of combating disability stereotypes and other forms of discrimination against children with disabilities.