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Ugandan Policy Fines Poor Parents

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New Vision (Kampala) | NEWS 7 July 2008 |By Francis Kagolo and Aminsi Lubwama

PARENTS and guardians who fail to feed their children will be charged and imprisoned for six months or fined sh240,000.

The proposal is part of a new food and nutrition bill drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

The Food and Nutrition Bill 2008 aims at ensuring food security in the country. The Bill requires family heads to ensure that all the members of their homestead have enough food reserves and to engage in gainful work to prevent famine and poverty.

"A head of a homestead who contravenes this commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of not less than twelve currency points or a term of imprisonment of six months, or both," reads section 8 (2) of the proposed Bill.

Addressing journalists at the Media Centre in Kampala yesterday, state minister for fisheries, Fred Mukisa, said the Bill had been finalised and was going to be tabled in Parliament.

"Every person has a right to food and to be free from hunger and under-nutrition. The right to food is a legal obligation. The state, heads of households and all people are obliged to respect it and protect it."

He added that each head of a family should be able to feed the people under their care, including orphans.

Noting that children and other family members should have three meals a day, the minister decried the lack of adequate food in most families around the country.

He said the 2005/2006 Uganda National Household Survey discovered that 8% of households took only one meal a day, which had led to malnutrition. "This retards children's physical and mental development."

According to the Bill which is to operationalise the Uganda Food and Nutrition Policy of 2003, family heads bear the burden of feeding their members. The state is responsible for providing a minimum amount of food to vulnerable persons only.

Flanked by Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, the director of the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), Mukisa said the Bill, if passed, would also establish a National Food and Nutrition Council to guarantee the protection of the right to food.

Pressed by journalists to explain why the ministry wanted to criminalise poor families, Bahiigwa replied: "Laws exist to guide society and not to penalise. We expect people to become more hardworking and avert famine."

For regions like Karamoja, which are affected by prolonged droughts, the PMA chief hinted that those were emergency cases which would be handled differently.

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