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Justice for Children

© UNICEF/MLIA2009-00256/Pirozzi
UNICEF support partners to help children in prison; advocating that prisons should only be used as a last resort.

The law since 2001 provides that the minimum age for criminal legal action is 18. However, under the same law, children over 13 years, but below 18 years, may be prosecuted and convicted if it is decided that they acted with discernment.

Children are tried before courts for minors as follows:

  • Children’s Judge;
  • Juvenile Court;
  • Special Bench for Minors in the Appeal Court;
  • Court of Assizes for minors.

Despite the existence of this provision, there are no juvenile courts outside of Bamako. In the rest of the country, children are tried by a judge who hears under-age cases.
 
As stipulated by criminal law, a juvenile must be detained separately from adults. However, a survey in 2008 supported by UNICEF and conducted by the National Centre for Documentation and Information on Women and Children (CNDIFE) of the Ministry for the Advancement of Women, Children and the Family (MPFEF) showed that out of the 54 prisons visited, 41 did not have a separate section for minors. The likelihood that minors are detained with adults is therefore high. This same study also identified challenges facing children in detention: out of the 54 prisons visited, 47 did not have an infirmary.

© UNICEF/MLIA2009-00259/Pirozzi
Adolescent boys in conflict with the law sleep on mattresses in the detention centre for minors in Mopti.

The Child Protection Code within Malian law provides for legal mediation as an alternative to criminal prosecution of minors. It is a mechanism aimed at reconciliation between a child offender or his/her legal representative and the victim or his/her legal representative or claimants. Mediation seeks to curb the effects of criminal prosecutions, provide compensation for damage caused to the victim, end distress caused by the offense and contribute to rehabilitation of the offender. The mediation is based on one or more of the following alternative justice measures: 

  • Compensation (the victim of the offense charged to the minor);
  • Material compensation;
  • Restitution of stolen property;
  • Community service;
  • Express apologies submitted verbally or in writing to the victim; or
  • Compensation for damage to property.

The Public Prosecutor, the child or victim, or their respective legal representative, may request mediation. As an alternative to imprisonment, Malian legislation provides for the following measures:

  • Reprimanding;
  • Giving the child back to his/her parents, guardian or private reformatory institution;
  • Placing the child in a medical or medical-educational institution.

However, despite these protective provisions, in practice, justice for children in Mali is geared more towards prosecution and imprisonment of children than to the alternative measures. Indeed, a study conducted by CNDIFE (see above) showed that out of  923 children arrested in 2006 and 765 in 2007, only 39 and 29 respectively (a total of 68 over the 2 years) benefited from the alternative measures to prosecution and/or imprisonment. Furthermore, the same study showed that, despite its importance, post-prison follow-up of minors is undertaken in only 5 of 54 institutions. It is clear from these findings that juvenile justice in Mali is still more geared towards punishment of children than to their rehabilitation.

 

 

 
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