In a shocking turn of events, Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer, a US couple accused of torturing their 10-year-old foster son in Uganda, were convicted of lesser charges on Tuesday. Initially facing severe accusations of “aggravated trafficking” and “aggravated torture,” the Spencers pleaded guilty to charges such as cruel, inhumane treatment, working illegally, and unlawful stay in Uganda.
The high court in Kampala ordered the couple to pay fines totalling approximately $2,460 and compensate the victim with 100 million Ugandan shillings. This decision came after the prosecution dropped the earlier charges as part of a plea bargain agreement.
Justice Alice Komuhangi, presiding over the case, acknowledged the couple’s guilty pleas and efficient legal process, stating, “I convict you and sentence you.” The husband was also convicted of child neglect.
The Spencers were arrested in December after the child’s nanny reported instances of “repeated unbecoming inhumane treatment” to local police. During a raid on their house, officers claimed to find CCTV evidence showing the child subjected to degrading conditions.
Outraged child rights activists criticised the ruling, describing it as “a mockery of justice.” Proscovia Najjumba, an activist, questioned how the couple could “walk away” after admitting to mistreating a child.
The foster child, attending a special needs school, was one of three children under the couple’s care. The Spencers, who arrived in Uganda in 2017 as volunteers for a US-based non-profit, later moved to Naguru, an upscale Kampala suburb, to work at a start-up.
This case underscores the controversy surrounding international adoptions in Uganda. Child rights advocates express concern, especially in light of the 2020 incident where the US government filed charges against a US-based adoption ring accused of placing Ugandan children, who were not orphans, with families in the United States.