Justice for children
Children deprived of liberty in West Africa face severe ill treatment and grave human rights violations. This includes unnecessary confinement in unsafe and inhumane living conditions, a high risk of sexual and physical abuse, acute malnutrition, illness and psychological trauma. Children in the region are commonly detained without charges or for offences that should be handled by protection authorities, such as child prostitution, begging and witchcraft. Poor children and children from marginalized groups are also overrepresented in the system, making up the majority of detained children in many countries.
The lifelong damage resulting from detention and abuse of children is well documented. Children deprived of their liberty are more likely to be illiterate, excluded and remain poor. Research also demonstrates that trauma associated with abusive prison conditions, corporal punishment, rape and persistent ill treatment have significant consequences on a child’s long term cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Once labeled a “delinquent,” boys and girls are often stigmatized and shunned by their families and communities, leading to a life of rejection, shame and poverty.
Within the framework of the UN Approach to Justice for Children, UNICEF WCAR is working to improve the situation of children in conflict with the law and child victims through a variety to strategies. Justice for children assessments have now been completed in several countries, providing a critical evidence base for future policy and programming development. UNICEF Benin, Ivory Coast, Niger, DRC, Sierra Leone and others have developed strategic partnerships with broader justice actors, including UNDP, UNODC, EU and OSI to promote justice for children as an integral part of national justice reforms and initiatives. A new focus on pre-trial justice has also been adopted, including the promotion and piloting of diversion and alternative measure models to bring national systems more in line with international standards. Finally, UNICEF is working closely with a number of partners to build more child-friendly policing and legal aid provision. In 2011, UNICEF WCARO partnered with International Bureau of Children’s Rights and Save the Children Sweden to produce a literature review of police training programmes in the region and beyond, as well as a landmark paper on core competencies for child friendly policing. This work is now being used to inform the development of national curriculum in policy and gendarme academies in several francophone countries in the region.
Other key resources
Child Friendly Policing (in French)