On 24th August 2012, the First Lady and Karamoja Affairs Minister Janet Museveni chaired a stakeholders’ meeting at Nakasero State House and resolved interalia to set up an inter-agency co-ordination team to comprehensively tackle the street children phenomena in the country.
Earlier this year, supported by UNICEF and implemented by the Centre for Justice Studies & Innovations and JLOS, a Special High Court session for child related cases in Acholi Sub Region was conducted at Gulu High Court recording major success in Juvenile justice. These are commendable developments. No wonder the country enjoys rather good juvenile rankings internationally.
Apart from ratifying various international treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, African Charter on the Rights of the Child, among others, Uganda was applauded for her efforts in respect to taking charge of children in conflict with the law by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 2010.
Nevertheless, many children in conflict with the law still find it hard to access justice.
In Uganda, Children in conflict with the law are often kept in adult prison facilities and Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Centre which is a gazetted place for detention, rehabilitation and retraining of children aged between 12 and 18 has a history of holding young people who are vagrant, street children or runaways before they are resettled.
Many criminal cases such as affray, common assault, actual bodily harm, theft, malicious damage etc involving children continue to be heard for the first time in Magistrates courts yet the Executive Committees (Judicial Powers) Cap 8 provides that the Village Executive Committees shall be a court of first instance in respect of such offences.
With the age of criminal responsibly starting at 12 years, it is disturbing to note that less than 4% of the current population of children ranging from 12-18 years have birth certificates. This is so despite Uganda having legal provisions for registration of births. This raises serious concerns in relation to registration of births which directly impacts on the success of ensuring that the ages of children in conflict with the law are appropriately identified thereby rendering it subjective. Authorities have to try to contact parents who often hide for fear of being arrested for offences allegedly committed by their children, assess appearance and even at times check the suspect’s teeth!
But with only four remand homes namely Mbale, Fort Portal, Gulu and Naguru remand homes, the need to execute or fast track certain reforms is fundamental to advance juvenile justice in the country.
Some of the reforms include continuously improving the efficiency of the Family and Children Court by training magistrates and funding legal aid to enable the courts handle all children’s cases as opposed to the High Court, replicate special juvenile court sessions across the country, utilize LC courts as courts of first instance in the specified criminal charges, keep street children who are in need of care and protection away from places gazzeted for detention, social welfare report should be emphasized upon arrival at the remand home, the police should further sensitize the community on how they operate which should entail the fact that they don’t automatically arrest a parent or guardian, ensure that all children in detention receive basic educational provision like the practice in Naguru Remand Home, expedite hearing of cases of juveniles, and ensure that all children are promptly resettled upon expiry of their sentence.
Clearly, some concerning elements deserve government’s urgent attention as we seek to guarantee that the welfare of our children who are in conflict with the law are upheld at all times.
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