- Dedicated. The 40-year-old abandoned her job and started an organisation to help give free legal representation to children in conflict with the law, writes Desire Mbabaali
- “To me, the biggest impact is that we reduced the time children spend on remand. We have ensured that the cases are concluded within the mandatory three months period as provided for under the Act; although this may be extended to four months given the logistical challenges these remand homes face,” winnie adukule
- Funding. Adukule says lack of funding is a hindering factor but she remains very optimistic that they shall find a donor that believes in their work to help them realise their dream of access to justice for vulnerable children.
Winfred Adukule, 40, is a professional and experienced advocate who has devoted her life to providing free legal representation to child offenders. Warm, pleasurable and obviously a conversationalist, she describes herself as free spirited, recently widowed, and a mother of one, 12-year-old girl.
“I am the eldest of five siblings born to Mr and Mrs Godfrey Adukule of Omugo Terego, Arua District. I attended Buganda Road Primary school and later joined Namasagali College for both O and A levels. I joined Makerere University for my Bachelor of Laws degree and Law Development Centre for my Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice,” Adukule says.
“I also hold an LL.M in Democratic Governance and Rule of Law from Ohio Northern University (which I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship). I started my legal career with the Inspectorate of Government, later joining the Directorate for Ethics and Integrity and lastly, the Accountability Sector Secretariat, which I left in January 2011,” she adds.
Adukule is the managing partner of Adukule and company Advocates, and the founding member and executive director of Free Child Uganda, an organisation she started in 2016 to help give free legal representation to children in conflict with the law.
Unlike many other organisations that focus on the victims, she decided to focus on the offenders.
“Basically, Free Child Uganda works with juveniles who are in detention. For two years now, we have been purely doing legal representation to child offenders. We have a memorandum of understanding with the ministry of Gender to offer this legal representation,” she explains, mentioning that their work spreads out from Naguru Remand Home, to other remand homes in Arua, Fort Portal and Mbale.
There is always that turning point in one’s life. To Adukule, one particular day in court changed her career course.
“I am sitting at Buganda Road Court one day, attending to an entirely different matter. And these prisoners are brought in, and this particular, one prisoner looks very scared. He is being charged for aggravated defilement,” she says.
“I looked at the trial magistrate and said, ‘Listen, he looks like a child, why are we proceeding?’ and the father of the victim was very agitated saying, ‘This man defiled my daughter,”. So, I said, ‘if we can, let the court order for medical examination to ascertain his age.’ The magistrate asked whether I wanted to take on the case, and I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’ That is how it all started,” she narrates.
It was later ascertained that he was a child, and since his parents were in court, the trial magistrate granted him a court bond. With the charge reduced to child-to-child sex, it meant that the girl was supposed to be arrested and charged. “When the parents of the girl heard this, they disappeared, and the case was subsequently dismissed for want of prosecution,” Adukule says.
It was then that she paid a visit to Naguru Remand Home and asked whether she could represent the children. “I was advised by the in-charge to write to the Permanent Secretary [Gender ministry], expressing my interest to do so only upon after registering as a legal entity – conceiving Free Child Uganda,” she adds.
Secret to success
Working with four advocates in Naguru and two in Arua - which is also her home area, Adukule has managed to drive her dream together with building relationships, coordinating through partnerships, and working with like-minded advocates.
“They are not paid, but because of the love they have for what they do, they come on board as and when we need back up,” she says.
“We realised that these children are vulnerable and come from broken families who cannot afford the services of an advocate. The legal representation is for all the children remanded in these homes. We step in to expedite the trial process in a manner these children understand,” she adds.
As a result, Adukule prides that Free Child Uganda has been able to handle more than 1,000 cases from the time of inception.
“To me, the biggest impact is that we reduced the time children spend on remand. We have ensured that the cases are concluded within the mandatory three months period as provided for under the Act; although this may be extended to four months given the logistical challenges these remand homes face,” she says.
The continuous court appearances also mean that the number of children in the remand homes have significantly reduced and ultimately reunited with their families.
“The child has offended, yes, but we look beyond the circumstances of the child and look at the community,” she says, urging that the principle of ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ should be embraced again in our day-to-day setting.
In 2016 the Principal Judge appointed one of the judges in the Kampala High Court Criminal Division to specifically handle juvenile cases, which Adukule says has boosted the speedy trial of Kampala cases, which are the highest.
By way of appreciating their work, Free Child Uganda was awarded the 2017 the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) Humans Rights Defender award.
“It was a good thing that was only achieved through persistence and perseverance, and we were very privileged. For us to be able to stand out among the many people nominated was a great achievement,” Adukule says. “We are hoping we can do more of that, and finally get to Fort Portal, Gulu and Mbale,” she adds.
“Not so many people believed in what we were doing, because they are quick to judge these children. But gradually, the mindset of people is changing and they are ready to listen and understand these children. And as a woman, I think the maternal instincts just kick in,” she mentions.
Secondly, lack of funding is a hindering factor but she remains very optimistic that they shall find a donor that believes in their work to help them realise their dream of access to justice for vulnerable children.
While she plans to see Free Child Uganda grow into a much bigger, and a one-stop centre for juvenile justice in Uganda, Adukule believes that the biggest and natural gift woman have is the ability to mobilise and organise.
“That is a strength we all have, and once we tap into that, we can actually offer the services we seek to offer. You don’t need to be a professional, or lots of money to stand out in your community. You can actually take your natural, God given ability, tap into it and follow your dreams,” she concludes.
Tomorrow, read how Sarah Kiyimba grew her hospitality business