The Government of Uganda and UNICEF have today launched a child-friendly justice handbook to guide prosecutors and other actors in the criminal justice system, in handling child-related cases in a child-friendly and gender responsive manner.
The handbook is produced by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with technical and financial support from UNICEF as well as financial support from the Justice Law and Order Sector. The UK government provided financial support to the process through UNICEF. The handbook will be used by prosecutors and other state as well as non-state actors and institutions in the criminal justice system.
“The handbook is an excellent guide in improving the delivery of justice to children, strengthening child protection structures and helping build a protective environment for children. It will subsequently lead to the rehabilitation and reintegration of children in conflict with the law,” says Mike Chibita, the Director of Public Prosecutions.
According to the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) Annual Report 2013, there were 1,256 juvenile offenders in the year 2011-12. In 2012, the Uganda Police Force arrested an average of six juveniles per 100,000 of the child population.
More often than not, prior to sentencing, child offenders are held with adults, due to lack of separate holding facilities at police stations, which increases the risk of violence, abuse and exploitation. The conditions of detention are sometimes sub-standard, overcrowded and deny children their rights, such as the right to legal representation, parental access, and appropriate standards of health. Detention rarely results in the child’s reintegration and the child assuming a constructive role in society, which should be the objective of any justice intervention in line with the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).
In addition, children’s cases are often processed through justice systems designed for adults that are not adapted to children’s rights and specific needs.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which Uganda signed, ratified and domesticated recognises the importance of child friendly justice. In addition, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child also highlights the right of the African child to special treatment in a manner consistent with the child’s sense of dignity and worth and which reinforces the child’s respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. It prohibits child labour and harmful cultural practices that put children at risk. At national level, the Constitution of Uganda sets out rights of children, including of those in conflict with the law. The Children’s Act Cap 59 further makes specific provision on the processes of arrest and charging, pre-trial detention and hearings, adopting the child rights based approach.
However, despite the existence of the mentioned legal frameworks, the justice system in Uganda is still faced with severe constraints especially as far as child protection and justice is concerned. With the existing system, children are marginalised by the limited application of a child-rights based approach by relevant institutions charged with child justice and inadequate systems and procedures for justice for children.
Regarding sexual violence, Uganda is a signatory to international and regional instruments on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) which include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, 1995, the Great Lakes Protocol on the Prevention and Suppression of Sexual Violence Against Women and Children 2009, the SADC addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children (Addendum to the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development). The Government of Uganda has undertaken steps to address sexual violence by enacting a gender sensitive constitution and drafting laws that prohibit violence against women and children, including the 2007 Penal Code Amendment Act No. 8, the Domestic Violence Act, the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act 2009 and The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010.
Despite these efforts on the legislative front, the criminal justice system’s response to gender-based violence falls short of the country’s international regional and national obligations to prevent violence against children and women and to ensure their access to justice. Perpetrators still escape prosecution and punishment for their crimes. Delays in the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of SGBV crimes, poor case handling methods including exhibit mishandling, poor statement recording, outdated evidential admission requirements to name but a few, lead to poor case outcomes. The lowly response of the criminal justice system to the determination of SGBV cases is reflected in the DPP performance statistics. For example, the DPP 2015 statistics show that the total number of defilement cases handled that year was 26,900. 8,176 of these were newly registered cases. About 8,000 of these cases were being mentioned in court, meaning that investigations in these cases were still ongoing. About 7,800 cases were under prosecution and only 1197 cases were concluded.
“No matter how children come into contact with judicial or non-judicial proceedings, their rights have to be protected from the time they enter into the formal justice system to completion,” Ms. Noreen Prendiville, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Uganda, emphasized.
As part of the process of the development of the handbook, the Director of Public Prosecutions appointed a task force consisting of prosecutors and members of the DPP policy unit that conducted field consultations, which identified gaps and challenges in the implementation of a child friendly criminal justice system. The consultative meetings established that one of the main problems faced by prosecutors, adjudicators and investigators was the failure to understand and therefore apply the concept of “child friendly justice”.
What is Child-Friendly Justice?
Child-Friendly Justice refers to justice systems which guarantee the respect and the effective implementation of all children’s rights. The key issues for consideration in determining whether or not an intervention is child-friendly are:
Is this proposed action in the best interests of the children?
Does it safeguard their life and survival and actively contribute to their development?
Is it taking into consideration the needs of all children, without discrimination against particular groups?
Are there adequate resources available?
In summary this concept requires that children in contact with the law either as victims, witnesses or those in conflict with the law, be handled in a way that is humane and which recognises their legal and physical vulnerabilities. Such a system should be adapted to and focused on the needs of the child.
This hand book therefore delves into the subjects of child friendly justice, diversion, child age determination, detention of children, evidence of children, statement taking, and working with child victims and witnesses of Sexual and Gender Based Violence Crimes as well as the child justice institutional set up and mandates. It provides child justice practitioners with the basic tools of how to handle children in contact with the law.
“UNICEF pledges to continue working with the Government to promote the strengthening of all parts of the child protection system, including the justice mechanisms, to operate in the best interest of the child,” Ms. Prendiville concluded.