The Legal Resources Foundation joins the rest of the world in commemorating the Day of the African Child under the theme “Towards a Child Friendly Justice System in Africa”. This theme resonates with the work of the LRF whose focus is facilitating access to justice for marginalized and vulnerable groups who include children in conflict and in contact with the law. This year Zimbabwe commemorates this day at a time when the country is witnessing increased incidences of children who come in conflict with the law and have to interface with the justice delivery system. It is key that the system takes into account the vulnerability of children and it is designed to protect the rights of both children in contact and in conflict with the law.
Through its work the LRF has noted that a number of children in conflict with the law go through the justice system without legal representation and are unaware of their rights. The majority of these children come from very difficult socio-economic backgrounds. Some of the children are subjected to pre-trial detention in circumstances where they are exposed to adult offenders with the risk that they may be hardened in the process. A number of cases involving some of the children take long to be resolved as they do not have birth certificates to prove that they are juveniles. The organisation has also noted that some of the actors in the justice system have not received comprehensive training in child sensitive approaches when handling cases with the result that children’s rights are infringed as they go through the justice delivery system.
The experience of going through the justice system can be traumatic for both victims and child offenders given the complexity of the law and the uncertainty that comes with the outcome of legal proceedings particularly for children who may have committed crimes. A child friendly justice system is key to alleviating the trauma and protecting the rights of children.
The LRF applauds the government for putting in place the Pre-Trial Diversion programme whose objective is to divert children who may have committed minor offences from the criminal justice system. It is however important that this programme is well-resourced.
The LRF Calls upon the government to:
- Ensure that the justice system is in line with the fundamental elements of a child friendly system which include(a) the principle of the best interest of the child, (b) the principle of participation, (c) the principle of non-discrimination, and (d) the right to life, survival and development
- Put in place measures which ensure that in practice detention of children is a measure of last resort and that if they are detained, they are not detained with adults.
- Resource all Victim Friendly Units and institutions which handle children’s cases to enable such institutions to deliver child friendly justice.
- Put in place programmes to build the capacity of all key justice sector institutions to handle cases in a child friendly manner.
- Introduce programmes in schools to raise awareness among children of their rights as well as the workings of the justice system to enable them to assert their rights when they interface with the system.
Source: Legal Resources Foundation (LRF)