UNICEF supports Rwandan children to access justice
Kigali, March 29, 2012: This week, more than 215 pending cases of children in detention without trial, were heard as part of an on-going process to ensure that the backlog of cases – particularly where children are concerned – is cleared as quickly as possible.
This Child Legal Aid Week, as it has been dubbed, was first organised in 2009, and then again in 2010. Due to the mobilisation of prison officers, courts, parquets, the national police, the Bar Association and the Legal Aid Forum, more than 800 cases of children awaiting trial were cleared, enabling most of these children to be set free.
These weeks are part of a larger judicial reform process, supported by the EU, Dutch and Belgian Governments, DFID, UNICEF and other partners, to ensure that the rights of children in conflict with the law are realised as efficiently and effectively as possible.
An innovative feature of this reform has been the creation of “justice centres” or maison d'accès à la justice in each of the country’s thirty districts. These centres, which are staffed by three lawyers, provide free legal aid to an average population of 350,000 people.
Since their creation in 2011, the centres have dealt with over 7,000 cases related to child rights, protection and violence issues and have also helped the justice system identify pending cases, thereby enabling the organisation of the legal aid weeks.
“The continued organisation of these weeks is an important step to realizing justice for all children in Rwanda,” emphasised Noala Skinner, UNICEF's Representative to Rwanda, “And I know we all hope that these weeks will soon be a fixture of the past, which is why we are supporting Government put in place alternative corrective measures for children.”
In addition to helping transform correctional facilities for minors, UNICEF has supported the creation of a juvenile chamber with specialized judges for children and is also assisting the country revise the child protection law to ensure that it is sensitive to children’s rights and needs.
Rwanda’s Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama officially launched the Legal Aid Week this year, in the presence of the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion and other high ranking government officials, partners and civil society groups.
Rwanda has made significant progress in realizing the rights of children and women. Over 95% of girls and boys go to school. Child mortality has dropped significantly from 152 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 76 in 2010 and the number of children and their families living in poverty has decreased from 56% on 2005 to 44% in 2010. Challenges still remain, particularly in relation to ensuring quality health, education and justice services to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations – areas where UNICEF will continue to focus its efforts in the coming years.