On the Day of the African Child, Take Concrete Action to Ensure Access to Child-Friendly Justice for Children

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins the rest of the continent in commemorating Day of the African Child.

Commemorated annually on 16 June, Day of the African Child honours the memories of students who were massacred in South Africa, in 1976 for protesting against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid regime.

This day was designated in 1991 by then the Organisation of African Union and calls for serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent.

In 2020, Day of the African Child is being commemorated under the theme; “Access to Child Friendly Justice in Africa”. The theme draws urgent attention to African governments to develop strategies to improve child justice systems and take bold steps to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of all children is prioritised.

As the theme goes, access to a child friendly justice system is one of the fundamental entitlements of the child, which gives meaning to the other rights and freedoms through enabling enforcement of the rights.

A child friendly justice system ensures that children are able to make meaningful use of the instruments of law enforcement, administration, judicial processes, as well as informal mechanisms of justice.

However, despite growing acceptance of this standard, access to a child friendly justice system remains largely beyond the reach to the vast majority of children in Zimbabwe.

As we commemorate Day of the African Child, ZLHR commends the Zimbabwean government and some development partners for launching the pre-trial diversion programme for juvenile offenders, which is going a long way towards ensuring that young offenders get an opportunity for rehabilitation away from the conventional criminal justice system.

The pre-trial diversion programme for juveniles is aimed at ensuring that offenders receive rehabilitative, educative and restorative support through training so as to reintegrate them into society without the stigma of a criminal record.

For those juveniles accused of more serious offences that are not catered for in the pre-trial diversion programme, justice can only be realised if they are allowed to exercise their inalienable right to legal representation throughout the criminal proceedings. This makes it imperative for legal aid to be broadened to enable all juveniles including those whose families are unable to afford lawyers’ fees to benefit.

However, despite growing acceptance of this standard, access to a child friendly justice system remains largely beyond the reach to the vast majority of children in Zimbabwe and on the continent.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which is disrupting access to essential services for children including education, health-care and food among other basic necessities, access to justice is critical.

The overbearing and overriding measures adopted by governments in a bid to ensure safety and security in the context of a health pandemic has further diminished the opportunities for children to access mechanisms of justice.

Access to justice is a fundamental right in itself and is an essential pre-requisite for the promotion and protection of all other human rights and is a means for the exercise of other universally recognised human rights.

Without ensuring access to justice, children’s rights enshrined in the Children’s Act, the Constitution and in various continental and international instruments of which Zimbabwe is a state party, will remain promises on paper that do not serve the interests of children.

In the best interests of the child, ZLHR will continue to advocate for children’s right to access child friendly justice and calls upon government to;

  • Expedite the promulgation and revision of all relevant laws to address juvenile justice issues including establishing a distinct criminal justice system for children;
  • Fully align the Children’s Act to the Constitution, including reviewing the Children’s Act to incorporate and ensure that the justice mechanism system embrace the best interests of the child as paramount in all matters concerning the child;
  • Expand the pre-trial diversion programme and invest in children’s education for a better post-coronavirus world.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights