A 45-year-old Byakabanda parish chief in Rakai Town Council in Rakai District has been given police bond after being arrested over locking up his son (names withheld to protect the child) in a small room for the past seven years because he is mentally ill. He is said to have done so, so that he could be isolated from his other children.
Residents of the town council were, however, appalled and condemned Police for releasing the suspect who is said to have locked up the boy at the age of six. The boy is now 13 years old.
“Child neglect or torture is a serious offence and we couldn’t expect any right-thinking member of society and a parent to do it,” Mr Issa Mutaawe, a resident in Rakai Town said during an interview on Wednesday. He says they are yet to hold a village meeting and discuss the matter if at all Police fails to handle the case.
Last week, a priest at Kasozi Catholic Parish in Rakai District identified as Fr Rafael Tebukozza got information that a child had been locked in a “cage” and barked like a dog in the nearby town.
The priest first thought it was a rumour, but was shocked when he arrived at the suspect’s residence in Rakai Central Village and heard the child making strange sounds.
Accompanied by Police officers led by Ms Patience Baganzi, the Rakai District Police Commander, the priest called the boy’s father out of his house and requested him to open the room that was stinking. Only a few brave people managed to get close to the room due to an unbearable smell that was emanating from inside.
The sight of the child shocked every one. His hair looked like a sheep’s skin whereas his nails were very long and looked like claws. Despite his age, the boy could hardly speak. Worse still, he was so malnourished that onlookers thought he was only four years old.
“I could not believe what I saw. It is quite obvious that his parents had intentionally left him to rot in a room, but the living God saved him and we are going to take care of him as a church,” Fr Tebukooza said when he saw the child.
It was at this point that Tebukooza, along with the police took the suspect to the police station.
According to Baganzi, the suspect was asked to go and explain to the mother of the child, Josephine Naluggwa what he had done and apologise to the community. She says the boy’s father gave Naluggwa some money (about Shs200,000) and a few other items but he did not admit his wrong-doing or apologise to the community. She says they intend to re-arrest him.
Ms Naluggwa, a teacher and mother of the boy had parted ways with the suspect and says she knew nothing about her son’s condition. In her statement at police, Ms Naluggwa said her former husband reassured her that their son had been taken to Europe for treatment and she had no reason to worry.
“The suspect took the boy away from me at the age of six and said he had got Good Samaritans from Canada who were ready to treat him for free. I continuously asked for updates about the boy’s situation, but was told to be patient because the child was to return very soon,” she said.
Some of suspect’s neigbours who preferred anonymity, to speak freely about the child’s condition, said this case had earlier on been reported to Police, but to their surprise, no action was taken.
They said the boy was not allowed to eat from a plate and was only served food once in two days.
“The little boy would end up feeding on his faeces and this was confirmed after he attempted to do so when he came out of the confinement,” one of the neighours said.
They further wondered why Police gave bond to the suspect and never followed up the case. Mr Joseph Ssendagi, the Rakai District probation officer said he will not rest until Police takes action against the boy’s father.
“We struggled so much to ensure that the suspect got arrested. I now wonder why Police can’t help in forwarding his case file to court. We are not going to rest until he is arrested and charged in court,” he said.
The boy’s father denied all the allegations levelled against him, and insisted that the boy was not being mistreated, but instead given maximum care in the small room and was yet to be removed and taken to school.
However, Mr Grace Pande, the Rakai District criminal investigations officer said Police had not received any complaints from residents that the boy was being mistreated.
“I don’t even know what you are talking about. No one has reported such a case here,” he said.
Police are still hunting for the boy’s stepmother who was staying with the suspect. She reportedly fled the house after police stormed their home last week.
There is relief and hope now that the church has decided to look after the child; The boy’s father seems to have no problem with this. But for many, the question as to what possessed him to lock up his biological son in a room for seven years will remain unanswered.