OMORO DISTRICT, UGANDA — When Sharon Goretti Adong, 20, fell in love with a Chinese man working for Sinohydro, a Chinese company, she was certain he would marry her and take her back to China where they would start a family.
But his contract expired in mid-2016, and he went to back to China without telling her,leaving her five months pregnant.
“He did not even say goodbye,” she says.
She found out that he had left the country by asking his colleagues.
“He lied about marrying me. I was pregnant, and I didn’t know how I was going to raise this child alone,” she says.
Her daughter, now 14 months old, lives with her sister in a neighboring district, because Adong doesn’t have the money as a single mother to raise her daughter, she says.
“Life became so hard for her to live with her daughter and also be able to support her,” says Babra Atien, Adong’s sister. “So we decided that she could leave the child with me as she looks for money to support her child. But the money she sends is also too little to do enough.”
Throughout the Oyam and Omoro districts in northern Uganda, where the Chinese company Sinohydro has had a government contract since 2013, an increasing number of local women say they became pregnant by Chinese workers who later returned to China. The workers are on contract with Sinohydro to build the Karuma Hydro Power Plant, which is expected to be completed this year.
Sam Ogwang Alunyu, chairperson of Kamdini county in the Oyam District near where the power dam is being constructed,says he is aware of at least 20 children in the area who were fathered by Chinese nationals working at Sinohydro.
He says the problem is becoming more widespread, so the government is looking for specific programs to help women who have had children by Chinese men working on the project.
“These women can’t take care of their children alone. They need financial support and we hope government can intervene,” he says.
In 2013, when the project began, many local women came to town to fill jobs associated with the project,Alunyu says.
Adong, then 18, was hired in 2015 to work as a cook at Sinohydro, but her contract ended last year. Now she works in a local bar.
John Yung, a Chinese shoetrader in Kampala, says he sees relationships between Chinese men and Ugandan women often. He attributes the rise of interracial relationships to the perception that Chinese men have money. Sometimes, though, he says relationships can be genuine.
“It can be a normal relationship where one just finds the other attractive and money isn’t playing any role,” he says.
But for too many in the district, the original attraction isn’t the problem. It’s the financial implications of what happens when a relationship ends.
Nakisanze Segawa, GPJ Uganda
Sandra Amooti, 21, and her 11-month-old son live with her parents in the Omoro District. Her son’s father also worked for Sinohydro, she says.
“He called me while he was in Kampala to let me know he was leaving the country because his contract with Sinohydro had expired,” she says. “I asked him why he didn’t tell me when he was [here] and he said he did not want to tell me face to face because he knew I would be hurt and he didn’t want to see me hurt.”
While they keep in touch via social media, she says he no longer supports her financially.
“He used to send me $200 every two months, but since November last year he stopped,” she says.“And now I am relying on my family to raise him, which isn’t right. My son has a living father. In our culture, it’s the father whotakes care of their children, not the in-laws.”
Nicholas Ecimu, an attorney for Sinohydro who responded to inquiries on behalf of the company, says Sinohydro is not aware of any cases of men fathering children while working in Uganda.
“The company adheres to strict codes of conduct within their work precincts,” Ecimu wrote in an email to Global Press Journal. “But at the same time, does not take responsibility for the employees’ private lives outside the work area.”
Carol Tail, senior probation officer at the probations and social welfare office in the Oyam District, says that her office is trying to help women get financial support, but many women are reluctant to come forward.
“They have been stigmatized by the communities they live and work in. They have been shamed, called prostitutes,” she says.“So some have decided to hide to protect themselves and their children; even when you offer support, they are reluctant to come out.”
The long-term consequences of not knowing a child’s birth father can last a lifetime here, Tail says, adding that everything from bullying to land ownership could be questioned.
Being biracial isn’t common here, she says.
“They might face the risk of being bullied in schools by other children,” she says. “Also boys might be challenged with the issue of accessing land because in our culture boys inherit land from their fathers.”
Robert Okwanga, assistant chief administration officer of the Oyam District, says he understands the stigma in the community, but the only way for women to get assistance is to present their children to prove they were fathered by a Chinese worker.
Jackie, who requested to have her last name withheld, says she understands the consequences of the stigma too well.
When she came forward for help last year by telling her story of being left pregnant by a Chinese worker who returned to China to a local media outlet, she says she and her child, who were pictured in the article, suffered.
“They said I was a whore who had sold herself to the Chinese and that I should never complain,” she says. “They said I was immoral with stupid dreams of marrying a Chinese [man] when the truth is that Chinese don’t marry Africans. They called my daughter a child of a whore.”
After the article was published, Jackie sent her daughter to live with her mother in another village, which she would not disclose. She is currently unemployed and looking for work.
But others say they have not approached the district for help because they didn’t know it was an option.
“It’s hard to know who to trust and who will actually offer help,” Amooti says.
She says she wasn’t aware of the help being offered by Oyam District’s probation and welfare office.