African Union countries commemorate the Day of the African Child on June 16 every year. “Access to a Child- Friendly Justice System in Africa,” is the theme this year. In Uganda, a child is a person below the age of 18 years. However, the age of criminal responsibility is 12.
It means a child below 18 can be arrested and charged if they commit capital or petty offences, as long as they are above 12. However, sometimes, their rights are abused.
When a child is arrested, the Police have the discretion to caution and release the child or dispose of the case without recourse to a formal court. However, this rarely happens because the Police do not always inform the child’s parent or guardian when they are arrested, according to a 2010 report.
There are three levels of courts that can oversee juvenile justice: these are local councils, children and family courts and the High Court.
Last year, the Uganda Police Force and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched Diversion Guidelines that allow children below 18 years who commit petty offences to be rehabilitated, instead of being tried in court.
The new guidelines, that came into force after 19 years, ensure that minors, who commit petty offences, are diverted from the formal justice system through procedures, structures, and programmes that help reconcile them with the aggrieved through non-judicial bodies, thus avoiding the negative effects of formal judicial proceedings.
“There should be no open court appearance for children,” the Director of Public Prosecution, (DPP) Jane Abodo, said in a recent interview with New Vision. She said children should be handled as children in court, “give them sweets, dolls, a friendly environment to get the best evidence out of them,” she said, to ensure that justice is served.
It is now 44 years since South African students took part in the 1976 Soweto uprising, in which hundreds of them were shot dead. Thousands of students in Soweto took to the streets, to protest against discrimination they suffered at school as black children, the poor standard of their curriculum and called on the authorities to respect their right to an education in their own language
To honour their bravery and memory of the students killed, the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) in 1991 established the Day of the African Child.
The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children and calls for a reflection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent today.
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, the commemoration of the event at the continental level will be done through a Webinar, which aims to examine the elements of a child-friendly justice system, including the application of a child rights-based approach and use the four principles of children’s rights as a tool for realising access to a child-friendly justice system in Africa.
According to Joshua Thembo, an advocacy officer with Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre, the day serves as a reminder to all stakeholders of the commitments they have made to protect the rights of children. He adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has had negative effects on the sexual and reproductive health of teens, like unplanned pregnancies.
Violence, teen pregnancies worry refugee agencies
Sauda Josephine (not real name), 15, was impregnated by a resident of Block 10 in Zone 1 at Bidibidi refugee settlement in January. She had earlier dropped out of school in 2016.
She was in P.3 at the time. This was her first pregnancy, but she had no support. Apparently, the man responsible for the pregnancy abandoned her and went back to South Sudan.
“No one is helping me. My father died when we were still in South Sudan. So, I live with my mother,” Sauda says. She adds that she feels a lot of pain and is too heavy to move around.
“I started feeling pain when I became pregnant. My mother is the only person, I can turn to for food because she registered me, as part of her family. I however do not have appetite for the beans and posho she prepares,” she says.
Sauda prefers greens and silver fish, but does not have any source of income to enable her buy them. “I usually take tea without sugar when I have no appetite for the beans,” Sauda says. CLICK HERE FOR MORE ON THIS STORY