Ugandan child rights activists have termed the $29,000 fine imposed on US couple over torture a "mockery of justice." Photo: Reuters / Photo: Getty Images

A US couple charged with torturing their 10-year-old foster son was convicted of lesser charges by a Ugandan court and ordered to pay $29,000 in fines and compensation.

Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer were arrested last year and initially charged with "aggravated trafficking" and committing "aggravated torture" against the boy over a two-year period starting in December 2020.

They denied committing torture and child trafficking, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, but pleaded guilty to charges including cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, working illegally and unlawful stay in Uganda.

The high court in Kampala on Tuesday ordered the pair to pay fines amounting to around 9.3 million Ugandan shillings ($2,460).

'Unbecoming inhumane treatment'

They were also ordered to pay the victim compensation of 100 million Ugandan shillings ($29,000) after the prosecution dropped the earlier charges following the plea bargain agreement.

Justice Alice Komuhangi told the court that since the couple "pleaded guilty to the charges and wasted no court time, I convict you and sentence you", with the husband also convicted of child neglect.

The pair were arrested last December after the nanny of the child, who attended a special needs school, reported "repeated unbecoming inhumane treatment" to local police, according to official documents.

When officers raided their house in December, police claimed to have found CCTV evidence showing that the child was forced to squat in an "awkward position," served only cold food and made to sleep on a "wooden platform, without a mattress or bedding".

'Mockery of justice'

Court documents subsequently revealed that the evidence was gathered from video filmed by the child's nanny on her phone.

Tuesday's ruling outraged child rights activists who termed it "a mockery of justice". Activist Proscovia Najjumba asked how the couple were allowed to "walk away" after accepting they "mistreated a child."

The boy was one of three children fostered by the couple, who arrived in the East African country in 2017 to volunteer at a US-based non-profit in the town of Jinja before moving to Naguru, an upscale Kampala suburb, to work at a start-up.

International adoptions have sparked controversy in Uganda.

In 2020, the US government filed criminal charges and imposed economic sanctions against a US- based adoption ring that placed Ugandan children, who weren't orphans, with families in the United States.