Ugandan police have arrested an American couple accused of “aggravated torture” and aggravated child trafficking of a 10-year-old foster child in their care.
Nicholas Spencer and his wife, Mackenzie Mathias Spencer, moved to Uganda in 2017 and took in three foster care children, including the victim, who is also HIV positive. Police say the Spencers locked him in a small room in a makeshift bed, kept him from school, and subjected him to harsh punishments.
The couple “between 2020 and December 2022 at Naguru in the Kampala District committed an act of torture against [name withheld] aged 10 years old,” the charge sheet presented before Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court by the prosecution reportedly reads in part.
The abuse was reported to the police by the boy’s caretaker, who noticed his condition started to decline while she looked after him in their home in the Kampala suburb of Naguru. The Spencers pleaded not guilty to the aggravated torture charges on Dec. 14.
Police found the couple allegedly kept the child barefoot and naked throughout the day at their home on cold-tiled floors, making him sleep without a mattress or bedding, police said. The Monitor also reports that he had not attended school for four months.
“I wanted to leave the job, but I knew if I left without doing something about it, the torture would continue,” she said.
The caregiver told police the Spencers, both 34, also had a camera installed in his room to monitor all his movements. She said they did not abuse the other foster children but singled out the 10-year-old because he was stubborn and hyperactive, and they believed he was mentally unstable.
Christine Tumuhairwe, a lawyer who helped the caregiver collect evidence against the couple, told The Monitor that the child would be punished after a list of “wrongdoings.” Police raided the home and found the video footage. Reuters reports that police also received a tip from neighbors.
“Our team of investigators established that the couple kept the victim barefoot and naked throughout the day, would occasionally make him squat in an awkward position, with his head facing the floor and hands spread out widely, he spent his nights on a wooden platform, without a mattress or beddings and was served cold meals from the fridge,” a police statement said.
“We believe the victim could have endured more severe acts of torture away from the camera,” it added.
The Spencers, who moved to the African nation to volunteer at a U.S.-based nonprofit, were remanded to a maximum security facility. If convicted, they face life in prison for the torture charge and a death sentence for the trafficking accusation. All three children are now in police custody, awaiting temporary foster care.
The police urged social workers to keep a closer eye on vulnerable children in the country’s foster care system.
“What happened to the victim in the last couple of years probably could have been prevented if they had closely monitored the well-being of the foster children,” officials said in a statement.
In 2020, the U.S. Justice Department filed multiple fraud and money laundering charges against two Americans, Margaret Cole and Debra Parris, and a Ugandan lawyer, Dorah Mirembe, for placing Ugandan children who were not orphans with families in the U.S.