UNICEF and the Ministry of Justice agree to deepen collaboration on juvenile justice
UNICEF and the Ministry of Justice remain committed to strengthening ties to improve access to justice for children in The Gambia, the heads of both institutions in the country affirmed. Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative and Honourable Dawda Jallow, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, met at the Ministry of Justice in Banjul on Friday 23 October. The meeting comes at a time when The Gambia is in the process of reviewing the Children’s Act 2005, a move highly welcomed by UNICEF.
“While reviewing the Children’s Act, I encourage an evaluation of the Act’s effectiveness to identify its strengths and shortfalls,” the UNICEF Representative said. “We need to approach access to justice in a more systematic way – by focusing more on promoting prevention and restorative justice and exploring alternatives to detention for children. These processes need to be complemented by the voices of children, because their right to participation is fundamental.”
The review of the Children’s Act is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. UNICEF has also committed strong support to the process.
“It is important to do a study on children in contact with the law and look at the age groups and how the cases involving children ended in the courts,” said the Minister of Justice. “This will help guide us in reviewing the Children’s Act and in considering the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the country”.
Children come into contact with the law for reasons as minor as truancy or begging. However, when children are subjected to the same punishment as adults, it deprives them of the opportunity to grow and reach their development potential.
“It is fundamental that children are not subjected to punitive justice” Mr Lewis said. “It hinders their development and could isolate them from their community, a vital support system for a child’s growth.”
In The Gambia, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12, which means any child at this age and above can be held criminally responsible for their actions. UNICEF encourages authorities to ensure that decisions to set the minimum age of criminal responsibility are guided by the welfare and best interest of the child, as well as other principles contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and international jurisprudence related to juvenile justice reform.
“Let us put it on the table,” Minister Jallow said of the possibility of reviewing the minimum age of criminal responsibility. “Let us discuss it. As a government, we are open to changes that could positively impact children in The Gambia.”
To promote a child-friendly justice system, UNICEF supports the Ministry of Justice to set up the Child Rights Unit at the Ministry. UNICEF has also been supporting the establishment of children’s courts in several regions and providing technical assistance to the ministry and the police to improve their capacity to manage cases involving children.
“UNICEF has been our principal partner in the establishment of the Child Rights Unit,” said Cherno Marenah, the Solicitor General at the Ministry of Justice. “Most of the support we receive in terms of capacity building, materials, and international engagements comes from UNICEF, and their support to the review of the Children’s Act is much appreciated.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/gambia.