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Sari Laukkanen

Text reviewed by Lynn Gertiser


Sexual and reproductive health is included in the Constitution of Uganda through, among others, the following articles:

  • All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law (Art. 21(1)). Without prejudice to clause (l) of this article, a person shall not be discriminated against on the ground, inter alia, of sex (Art. 21(2)). For the purposes of this article, "discriminate" means to give different treatment to different persons attributable only or mainly to their respective descriptions, inter alia, by sex (Art. 21(3)).
  • No person has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child except as may be authorised by law (Art. 22(2)).
  • No person shall be subjected to any form of, inter alia, inhuman or degrading treatment (Art. 24).
  • Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men (Art. 33 (1)). The State shall provide the facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them to realise their full potential and advancement (Art. 33 (2)). The State shall protect women and their rights, taking into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in society (Art. 33 (3)).
  • Laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or any other marginalised group to which clause (1) relates or which undermines their status, are prohibited by this Constitution (Art. 32 (2)).  Without prejudice to article 32 of this Constitution, women shall have the right to affirmative action for the purpose of redressing the imbalances created by history, tradition or custom (Art. 33 (5)).

Sexual and reproductive rights

  • Abortion: The protection of a woman’s life is the explicit legal ground for abortion, if the performance of the operation is reasonable, having regard to the woman's state at the time and to all the circumstances of the case (Penal Code Act, Art. 224). However, it seems that the jurisprudence has accepted the exceptions based on a woman’s mental and physical health. A woman found guilty of procuring an unlawful abortion herself may be sentenced to imprisonment for 7 years (Art. 142), the performer of the abortion procedure may be imprisoned for 14 years (Art. 141) and a person who supplies or procures for any person anything whatsoever to procure an abortion may face a three year sentence (Art. 143).
  • HIV/AIDS: Uganda, in accordance with its National HIV Prevention Strategy for Uganda 2011-15, focuses on HIV prevention influencing the implementation of laws and policies that facilitate HIV prevention; especially those that address sexual and gender based violence and other rights violations against women and other vulnerable and most-at-risk groups. However, it seems that HIV/AIDS related questions in general are not reflected in national laws.
  • Rights of sexual minorities: The marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited (Constitution, Art. 31 (2a)). A woman or man engaging in homosexual conduct may be sentenced to life imprisonment (Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act) and whomever attempts it may be sentenced to imprisonment for seven years. Uganda's Constitutional Court annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act on August 1, 2014.
  • Violence against women: A person committing a rape may be sentenced to death (Penal Code Act, Art. 124). A person attempting a rape may be sentenced to life imprisonment (corporal punishment) (Art. 125). The Domestic Violence Act mentions marital rape. Domestic violence against women is criminalized. The penalty for abusers is a fine and/or the maximum of two years’ imprisonment (Domestic Violence Act, Part II, Art. 4 (2)). Sexual harassment is criminalized with a penalty of up to 14 years of imprisonment.
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not allowed in Uganda. A person who performs the operation may be sentenced to imprisonment up to 10 years (Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, Art. 2), but if the girl dies during the operation, suffers a disability, contracts HIV or if a health worker performs FGM, those involved may be sentenced to life imprisonment (Art. 3).
  • Marriage: The age limit for marriage is 18 years (Constitution, Art. 31(1)) with the free consent of a man and a woman (Art. 31(3)). However, forced marriages and child marriages, for instance by parental arrangement, persist (based on various reports).
  • Polygyny is legal under both customary and Islamic law.

Uganda has ratified conventions and international declarations regarding women’s human rights, such as:

Legal framework include, among other:

Uganda has set up policies, strategies and programmes aiming to improve women’s human rights, such as:

Sexual and reproductive rights challenges

Health care challenges are well present in Uganda, especially in the field of sexual and reproductive rights. Some conventions have been ratified and laws are in force in Uganda regarding sexual and reproductive rights. However, there are numerous matters to be dealt with to ensure women’s sexual and reproductive rights, such as:

  • Lack of knowledge of the sexual and reproductive rights
  • Access to health service
  • Patriarchal cultural burden
  • Sexual and gender-based violence
  • Weak law enforcement
  • Laws are not in place