By Constance Ndeleko
In a quest to embrace an Africa Fit for Children and promoting their rights for their own best interest, it is vital that we focus our journeys to strengthening child protection systems that will allow children to grow and develop wholly to reach their optimum potential in realizing their dreams.
The justice system has come along away especially when dealing with minors. Care reforms have been adopted to ensure children needs are prioritized. Africa is made of up to 60% children of the total population. This is a significant number that speaks volume to the future of Africa.
Potentially, children find themselves knotted to the justice system either in conflict or in contact with the law. Research shows that some cases can be coped before children are booked into the institutions but unluckily over the years children have found themselves docile to the institutions making it difficult for them to thrive.
Justice systems worldwide are failing to protect children and to uphold their most basic rights. If detention prior to the trial is unavoidable, we can then focus on efforts that limit the time children spend in detention. (UNICEF)
When younger children bump into the justice system, the more likely they are to have sustained contact. An overwhelming majority of children who have come into conflict with the law are victims of neglect, exploitation, and social, psychological and economic hardships.
These children need and have a right to proper care, guidance, protection and opportunity for social reintegration; all of which need to comprise the rehabilitative role of the juvenile justice system.
In a bid to promote de-institutionalization and care reforms organization like CEFA have prioritized different measure to ensure children rights are protected from the first go. They include:
Diversion is a process whose main aim is to dispose of a case involving a child in conflict with the law without resulting in formal trial, acquittal or conviction and sentence by a court of competent jurisdiction.
It is an alternative child-appropriate process of determining the responsibility and treatment of a child in conflict with the law on the basis of his or her age, social, cultural, economic, psychological or educational background without resorting to formal court adjudication.
Diversion involves the channeling of cases from the mainstream justice system of courts and prisons into programs that aim to improve the child’s life-skills and self-esteem and guide them away from a life of crime.
Diversion applies to petty offences (non-serious) offences; but sexual offences shall not be eligible for diversion at the community level.
Diverting children who have committed minor offenses away from the judicial system towards community-based treatment and support is a more appropriate response than confinement, and a more productive way of addressing and preventing future delinquency.
Rehabilitation is the last stage of the process of diversion, and the beginning of the process of restoring the life and self-worth of a child offender. It is the process whereby the child’s negative behavior and attitudes are rectified.
Rehabilitation enables the child to change his or her negative behavior into a positive behavior and attitude acceptable to the community. It is an integral part of the process of reintegration.
The rehabilitation of child offenders linked to violent extremism requires a multifaceted approach. Rehabilitation of child offenders remains ineffective if not coupled with effective reintegration of the children back into the community.
Reintegration is the process which promotes or facilitates the acceptance of the child offender in the community. It is the healing of the victim’s and the community’s wounds inflicted by the offence.
Reintegration programs are geared towards supporting offenders to resume normal life out of the institution and not to reoffend. Preparation for reintegration is done through various initiatives, practices and programs that take place throughout the period that a child is in custody. These include facilitating children’s contact with their parents or guardians through telephone conversations or visits to the institution.
Successful reintegration, therefore, refers to the development of the ability (ies) to deal with risk factors so as to function successfully in society, thereby improving the quality of life of the person and the community. Risk factors are regarded as those conditions or characteristics that may contribute to or result in re-offending.
Restorative justice – any process in which the victim, the offender and/or any other individual or community member affected by a crime actively participates together in the resolution of matters arising from the crime, often with the help of a fair and impartial third party. Examples of restorative process include mediation, conferencing, and conciliation and sentencing circles.
Civil society organizations play a critical role in providing diversion options; and assisting child offenders and their families to adhere to the terms of a diversion programme.
Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstances, owing to poor upbringing, poverty and exploitation by adult crime syndicates. What these children need is protection through provision of an enabling environment for wholesome growth and development and not further victimization and punitive ‘justice’.
With regard to child justice, depriving children of their liberty, as indicated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, should be utilized as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (UNCRC, 1989).
Incarcerating children and separating them from their families and communities will seriously damage their physical, mental and social development. Detention results in lifelong stigmatization, hampering reintegration of children into communities (Mumba, 2011).