Angola, 10 May 2012: A second chance for children in conflict with the law
LUBANGO, Angola, 8 May 2012 – Anton*, 15, helps take care of Fernando Sozinho, an elderly disabled man at a retirement home in Lubango, in the province of Huíla, in southern Angola.
Anton was sent by the juvenile court system to perform community service at the home, his sentence for stealing a box of spaghetti.
Community service is one of several alternatives to detention being offered, thanks to reforms Huíla is making to the juvenile justice system with support from UNICEF.
After despair, a new opportunity
The southern region of Angola is rich in natural resources, but the country’s 27-year-long civil war disrupted development, leaving 54 percent of the population living below the poverty line. To support themselves and their families, 24 percent of children are involved in child labour.
Anton is one of these children. He is the second of three children; his older brother is blind and unemployed, and his mother is elderly.
“My father abandoned us very early on, and my mother doesn’t work. To keep the household together, my mother resells oil, but the money is not even enough for buying food. That’s why I help my family with odd jobs,” he said.
Anton has worked since he was 13 year old, taking jobs at supermarkets and other businesses.
He stole the food from an employer because he was hungry. “On a day of despair, I made a mistake and I regret it so much,” he said.
For the next three years, Anton will perform community service instead of working odd jobs. Through his service with Mr. Sozinho, Anton is learning to be a responsible citizen in a way that would not have been possible in jail.
Anton is very happy for the opportunity he has been given. Within a week, he had made friends at the home.
It has been good for Mr. Sozinho, as well. He has been at the centre for eight years, after having lost his family during the war. He regards Anton as a ‘grandson’.
“Anton is my great friend, as he cares for me with a lot of respect. I’m committed to teaching him my profession as a shoemaker so he can work and earn a decent living,” Mr. Sozinho said.
Building a better future
Around the world, children in conflict with the law face justice systems without provisions or accommodations for youth. They often end up in detention centres, sometimes living among adults, where they are vulnerable to abuse.
They may face disrupted educations and stigma in their communities. UNICEF promotes alternatives to detention and child-friendly justice systems that take into consideration the needs and rights of children.
To this end, UNICEF is supporting a juvenile justice pilot programme of the Government of Angola. It provides alternatives to detention including community service, school enrolment, vocational training, and cultural and sporting activities.
As part of the programme, training on child protection has been provided to national police officers, welfare workers and court magistrates working with children in conflict with the law.
“Through this programme, teenagers can continue to grow and develop their own skills; obtain schooling, vocational and cultural training, life skills; as well as receive guidance and support to their reintegration into society,” said UNICEF Angola Chief of Child Protection Edina Culolo-Kozma. “Not only is this programme more effective, but it costs five times less than keeping a child in jail.”
As part of this programme, Anton received his birth registration and certificate, and will be eligible to attend school and vocational training. And with an education, he will be able to build a better future for himself and his family.
*Name changed to protect child’s identity
More stories from Angola
More on child protection