Beginning my time with the Family Division of the Ugandan Judiciary, I thought I would be a lot more prepared for what was in store considering I had worked and interned at family law offices in the past. However, the disparity between Ugandan family law and American family law is significant. Luckily, I have had wonderful people helping me navigate my way through the discrepancies. The first huge difference was discovering that polygamy is legal and common. The fact that there are multiple wives, provides heavy complications when land must be distributed to the family after a husband dies intestate. The next substantial deviation was that all divorce is fault based. These differences were made even more complicated by the fact that a significant amount of people do not record or document things like land ownership, marriages, or wills. Needless to say it has been a huge learning experience to reconcile these dissimilarities.
However, my main project has been the area of contention regarding intercountry adoption in Uganda. Uganda has a very rigid law requiring anyone who wishes to adopt a Ugandan child to care for them for 36 months prior to obtaining actual adoption. This proves as a substantial deterrent for couples from other countries wishing to adopt. Because there are so many vulnerable children in Uganda in need of homes, the courts judicially created the “well-ness principle.” This judicially created title gives prospective parents legal guardianship over the child and an order to migrate to their home country, thus circumventing the law. My judge has asked me, as my main project here, to compare the way the United States does intercountry adoption and legal guardianship with what is happening in Uganda.
During this experience, friends of mine partook in the long and tiresome process to obtain legal guardianship of a one and a half year old. Their son was born to parents who did not want him and eventually abandoned him at an orphanage. The parents are not together and have no interest in raising the child nor does any other member of the family. Because the child comes from an impoverished family, he is seen as an economic drain if taken in and so he is left to the care of a babies’ home. The process has been extremely emotionally draining on the prospective parents. Everything is made difficult by the lack of structure in the process and the absence of adequate protocol when a child is abandoned.
The Judge granting legal guardianship wants to see that a proper investigation has been done to find any relative of the child’s biological family to take the minor. Additionally, there needs to be evidence that the child was actually and affirmatively abandoned. This is made difficult when there are not incentives in place for the police or orphanage to facilitate an investigation into the child’s story. Instead, years later when a couple is matched to the child and wants to obtain guardianship an investigation takes place to discover the whereabouts of the child’s family and his or her story of abandonment. Obviously, the longer times goes on without an investigation, the less likely it is that accurate information will be ascertained.
Although the process of adoption should be thorough and relatively difficult to prevent the system from being abused, Uganda has a massive problem with orphaned or abandoned children. Intercountry adoption is necessary for some of these children who would otherwise spend their early years without proper care. It has been amazing to actually research a real legal issue plaguing a country and simultaneously see my friends go through the process. In the classroom everything is relatively theoretical but this summer I was able to combine theories with the practicality of the system and its inner workings. Getting to hang out with, arguably, the cutest kid in Uganda wasn’t too bad either.