An American couple initially accused of torturing their adopted child were fined US$29,000 by a Ugandan court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to lesser charges.
Thirty-year-olds Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer were arrested in 2022 and charged with “aggravated trafficking” of a child and “aggravated torture” against the young boy of around ten years old between December 2020 and December 2022.
They denied both charges, which carry up to life in prison, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, illegal employment and illegal stay in Uganda.
The Kampala High Court ordered them to pay a fine of approximately 9.3 million Ugandan shillings ($2,460). They were also ordered to pay damages to the victim amounting to 100 million Ugandan shillings, after the prosecution dropped the original charges following the guilty plea agreement. .
Judge Alice Komuhangi told the court that since the couple "pleaded guilty to the charges and did not waste the court's time, I find you guilty and sentence you."
The couple was arrested in December following a report from the child's nanny, who was attending an establishment for disabled children. The nanny had reported “repeated inhumane and inappropriate treatment”.
When police raided their home in December, they claimed to find CCTV footage showing the child being forced to squat in an "uncomfortable position", being served only cold food and He was made to sleep on a “wooden platform, without mattresses or bedding”.
Tuesday's decision sparked an outcry among children's rights activists, who criticized "a travesty of justice."
"How can a couple who admitted to having beaten and mistreated a child, deprived him of food and water and made him stay in a cold room without clothes be given a light sentence, to pay a fine and... to leave?", activist Proscovia Najjumba told AFP.
The boy in question was one of three children in the couple's care.
International adoptions of children have created controversy in Uganda. In 2020, U.S. authorities prosecuted and imposed economic sanctions against a U.S.-based adoption organization that placed non-orphaned children with American families.