Kampala, Uganda – An American couple living in Uganda has been fined and sentenced to prison for abusing and mistreating their adopted Ugandan child. Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer admitted to child cruelty and inhumane treatment of their 10-year-old foster son in a Ugandan court this week.
Child Had Been Living With Couple for Two Years
The 10-year-old boy, who has special needs, had been living with the Spencers in Uganda for two years before they were arrested in December 2021. The couple, originally from South Carolina in the United States, moved to Uganda in 2017 to work as volunteers.
They ended up fostering three Ugandan children. However, their nanny reported the repeated mistreatment and abuse of one of the boys to local police last year, leading to the couple’s arrest.
Plea Deal Avoids Harsher Charges
The Spencers accepted a plea deal to avoid harsher charges of child trafficking and torture, for which they could have faced life imprisonment in Uganda. By pleading guilty to child cruelty and inhumane treatment, they received a lighter sentence.
In addition to child abuse, the couple admitted to working illegally in Uganda without proper permits and overstaying their visas.
Fined $28,000 in Ugandan Court
In Kampala High Court this week, Judge Alice Kyomuhangi ordered the Spencers to pay 100 million Ugandan shillings ($28,000) in compensation to the victim. They were also sentenced to two months in prison, which they already served after being jailed following their arrest last December.
Judge Kyomuhangi said the boy “was in need of help and support” after losing his father and being abandoned by his mother. “Unfortunately the accused persons failed to manage his peculiar behaviours,” she stated.
Child Forced to Sleep on Wood, Fed Cold Food
According to prosecutors, the Spencers had forced the child to sleep on a wooden platform instead of a proper bed. They also only fed him cold food, neglecting his nutritional needs.
The boy has special needs and psychiatric issues that the couple failed to properly care for due to lack of parenting experience, according to David Mpanga, their defense lawyer.
Activists Outraged By Light Sentence
Child rights activists in Uganda have expressed outrage over what they see as a light sentence for child abuse.
“How can you mistreat a child and then just walk away after accepting the abuse?” asked activist Proscovia Najjumba.
Others said the punishment did not fit the severity of the crimes committed against a vulnerable child. There are calls for the couple to face harsher sentencing.
Spotlight on International Adoptions
The case has highlighted the controversial issue of international adoptions in Uganda. Children’s rights advocates say more stringent background checks and monitoring of international adoptive parents are needed to prevent further cases of abuse.
“Thorough due diligence must be done during the adoption process to protect children,” said Darren Namatovou, founder of the Children Phoenix Foundation in Uganda.
Tighter Adoption Laws Proposed
In the wake of this case, Ugandan lawmakers have proposed tighter restrictions on international adoptions. The reforms would require home studies of prospective parents and follow-up monitoring after adoption.
Critics point out Uganda’s weak child protection systems fail to prevent abuse of vulnerable children. They hope this high-profile case leads to overdue reforms.
Spencers Had Fostered Multiple Children
Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer moved to Uganda with a mission to help children in need. They legally fostered three Ugandan children in 2017.
But according to prosecutors, instead of receiving proper care in their new home, the 10-year-old boy became a victim of child cruelty.
Accused of Neglect and Mistreatment
The couple were accused of denying the boy proper housing, nutrition and care. Their nanny said the child was subjected to repeated mistreatment and neglect.
The house worker eventually reported the abuse to local authorities in late 2021, prompting an investigation. At that point, the child had been living with the Spencers for two years.
Arrested and Charged With Abuse
The Spencer’s were arrested in December 2021 on charges of child abuse, trafficking and torture.
The allegations against them included forcing the boy to sleep on a wooden platform, depriving him of adequate food and other inhumane treatment.
If convicted of the torture and trafficking charges, the couple could have faced up to life imprisonment under Ugandan law.
Pleaded Guilty to Lesser Charges
To avoid the stiffer penalties, the Spencers accepted a plea deal this week. They pleaded guilty to child cruelty and inhumane treatment charges instead.
The plea agreement also saw them admit to working illegally in Uganda without permits and overstaying their visas.
Sentenced to Prison, Fine and Compensation
For their guilty pleas, the court ordered Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer to complete two months imprisonment, which they already served after being jailed upon arrest.
They were also handed a heavy fine worth 100 million Ugandan shillings or approximately $28,000.
In addition, the couple must pay their former foster child undisclosed compensation for damages suffered under their care.
Case Sparks Outrage in Uganda
Many Ugandan children’s rights advocates are angered by what they see as a light sentence for the child abuse accusations.
They argue the punishment does not match the seriousness of the crimes. Some have called for the case to be re-opened and the Spencers to face harsher penalties.
Spotlights Need for Adoption Reforms
The traumatic case has cast a spotlight on lax adoption regulations in Uganda, especially involving foreigners.
It has re-ignited calls for tighter screening of prospective adoptive parents and monitoring of adopted children.
Critics say Uganda’s child protection system too often fails vulnerable children who need it most. They hope tangible reforms can now emerge to prevent similar cases of abuse.