A new book on Child Justice in Africa
Guidelines on Action for Children in the Justice System in Africa
Download the Kampala Conference Report
The Munyonyo Declaration on Child Justice in Africa
The issue of managing or dealing with children coming in conflict with the law has historically haunted nations, and Africa is no exception. Although there have already been important headways, much remains to be done in ensuring child justice in Africa.
Often the basic rights of children are not respected by national legal, social welfare and justice systems and security institutions. Justice standards that are designed for, and mainly fits adults seldom cater to their needs. In one word, their basic human rights of access to justice are footnoted in a predominately adult-oriented justice system.
Children come in contact with the justice system in many ways: they may be involved in civil proceedings (for example in family affairs); they may be dealt with by a Juvenile Justice System when they come in conflict with the law (and too often, even when they are not in conflict with the law since a Juvenile Justice System intervenes while a child is in need of care); they may be witnesses of crimes or, and, this is even more common, they may be victims of crimes. They may also be involved in administrative, social and other kind of proceedings.
Children in conflict with the law may be dealt with through the formal justice system or court system, by the welfare system, or, for minor offences, by an administrative system. Such systems may function within the context of the adult criminal justice system, or may operate largely outside the judicial system through committees, commissions or administrative panels. Whether the system contains a degree of specialisation for children – whether the system is based on courts, the welfare system, or an administrative system – it is frequently known as a juvenile justice system. It is to be noted that the term juvenile justice system has, in most recent legislative reforms, been replaced by a less stigmatising term, child justice system.
In countries that do not have any degree of specialisation, children in conflict with the law are dealt with in largely the same way as adults. But adult criminal justice systems and child justice systems may frequently use deprivation of liberty as the primary sentencing option. Both may also fail to consider the needs and best interests of the child and to address the root causes of conflict with the law. Indeed, whilst a country may operate ‘specialised procedures’ for children in conflict with the law, an effective child justice system requires that the varying needs of children be assessed, that children in conflict with the law are referred to appropriate services, and that they are offered care and assistance with reintegration into the community. Moreover, such a system should operate in a ‘child-friendly’ environment, using appropriate and simplified language and with the minimum possible employment of physical restraints.
But the problem arises when children come in contact with a justice system that is unresponsive to their needs, which not only deprives them of their liberty, but also accentuates their vulnerability to abuse, violence, exploitation, and health-related risks such as injury and HIV/AIDS infection. Such a system also isolates children from society, particularly where the child’s welfare, education and reintegration needs are not integrated into the formal justice system.
This is further compounded by the very little understanding children have of the justice system and their rights which makes it unlikely for them to challenge any mistreatments and abuse perpetrated within the system. Further, most institutions dealing with children in conflict with the law are notoriously child-unfriendly and their physical conditions are often in the grimmest of states.
Thus, there is an urgent need to develop new tools to help States to adapt their justice systems to the situation of children, to bring their procedures up to speed with international standards, and to properly implement them.
In 2005, the United National Economic and Social Council adopted The UN Guidelines on Justice in Matters Involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime (2005). On the 17 November 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child- friendly justice made a constructive headway with the adoption of Guidelines on Child-friendly Justice. Similar guidelines are, however, still lacking in Africa and most countries have to cope with their weak child justice structures, procedures and limited resources.
DCI and ACPF believe that there is an urgent need to develop new tools to help African States to adapt their justice systems to the situation of children, to implement existing standards as well as adapt procedures that exist elsewhere.
The Kampala Global Conference on Child Justice is aimed at bringing together justice actors globally and mobilising effective follow-up actions of national and international legislation policies and practices, with regard to implementing child friendly justice systems in Africa. The conference will draw lessons from Europe, Latin America and Asia and foster learning for Africa.
By the end of this conference, DCI and ACPF will have initiated the development of guidelines for the implementation of child-friendly justice in Africa and drawn a follow up programme to the conference to ensure the endorsement of the guidelines by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the guidelines’ approval and adoption by the African Union.