American Couple Living in Uganda Accused of Torturing 10-Year-Old Foster Child

At a Wednesday hearing, the Spencers were deemed a "flight risk" by a local prosecutor

Nicholas Spencer, Mackenzie Mathis Spencer
Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer. Photo: LinkedIn; GoFundMe

A South Carolina couple currently living in Uganda stand accused of "constantly torturing" their 10-year-old foster son from 2020 to 2022, multiple outlets report.

Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer, both 32, have been living and working in Uganda since 2017. They took three foster children into their home in Naguru, a Kampala suburb, and allegedly kept one of the kids barefoot and naked at all times, according to a police statement reviewed by multiple outlets.

They allegedly failed to provide him with a mattress to sleep on, making him sleep on a wood platform, and purportedly forced him to squat in an awkward position.

The couple has been charged with aggravated torture, per multiple outlets.

A caretaker for the little boy, whose name is being withheld because of his age, told The Monitor that the couple prevented him from access to education and kept him locked in a small, cold tiled room at all times. She also said he had a camera in his room, monitoring him.

The caretaker reportedly came forward after she grew alarmed by the child's worsening condition, The Monitor reports. She also told the newspaper the Spencers allegedly singled out their 10-year-old child for such harsh alleged treatment.

"We believe the victim could have endured more severe acts of torture, away from the camera," a police statement reportedly said about the case.

At a Wednesday hearing, the Spencers were deemed a "flight risk" by a local prosecutor. "They have no community or family ties in Uganda, and the offense with which they are charged currently is of grave nature attracting a penalty of life imprisonment, therefore their likelihood to abscond from bail is really, really high," prosecutor Joan Keko said in court, according to Reuters.

Their lawyer, however, reportedly claimed the couple needed medication they couldn't access in prison and asked that they be released on bail. (The magistrate determined they should be held in custody until she rules on their bail application on Dec. 20.)

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On a 2019 GoFundMe page she created for personal medical expenses, Mackenzie Spencer wrote that she "moved to East Africa nearly 3 years ago with my husband, Nick, and we have been doing humanitarian work focused on women's empowerment and education. We are also foster parents to 3 incredible children."

Both Spencers are listed on LinkedIn as working for a startup called MOTIV Uganda.

Their lawyer, Leila Saaliwulide, could not immediately be reached. The Spencers have pleaded not guilty, per reports. They are now being held at Luzira Prison, a maximum security facility.

A Department of State spokesperson tells PEOPLE, "We are aware of reports of the arrest and detention of two U.S. citizens in Kampala. We are monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time."

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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