Children Behind Bars

Protecting the Rights of Children in Conflict with the Law in Niger

By Lalaina Fatratra Andriamasinoro & Islamane Abdou
Children Behind Bars
UNICEF Niger/Islamane
16 June 2020

NIAMEY (Niger), 16 June 2020 - To mark the commemoration of the Day of African Child, Government, UNICEF and Civil Society delegates paid a visit to the detention center of Niamey, where they had the opportunity to see firsthand the reality of children in detention in the country.

This year, Niger celebrated the day in a completely different setting, far from folklore. This year’s theme reflects on "Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa”.

“Today, we want to draw attention to the importance of protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law, highlighting in particular the importance of access to a child-friendly justice system in the country” says Ms. Elback Zeinabou Tari Bako, Niger’s Minister of Women Promotion and Child Protection. “Much has been achieved, but much more needs to be done.”

Children Behind Bars
UNICEF Niger/Islamane

The country accounts more than 500 detained children. Most of them have not been on trial and/or sentenced. Only a minority receive a custodial sentence, suggesting that pre-trial detention is regularly used as a sanction, in violation of the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. 

“Whatever the numbers, there are several reasons why many children should not be locked up. Detention takes an enormous toll on children” says Dr Félicité Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative in Niger.

“Putting children behind bars and separating them from their families and communities seriously damages their physical, mental and social development. Detention leads to lifelong stigmatisation which hampers reintegration of children into communities.”

UNICEF lauds the Government’s increased efforts to strengthen the institutional framework for child protection in Niger. Recent years have seen some positive developments in the treatment of children, including those who must be detained. 

Children Behind Bars
UNICEF Niger/Islamane

The Government, with UNICEF and partners support, is currently strengthening the justice mechanisms to operate in the best interest of the child and promoting alternatives to detention, that give the children an opportunity to prove their positive capacity and qualities and tackle guilt feelings in a constructive way.

"Alternative sanctions are generally far less costly than sanctions involving imprisonment. Locking up children on juvenile or criminal charges must be a matter of last resort," explains Nani Soly Aboubacar, Juvenile Judge, based in Niamey.

"Along with our partner Swiss Contact, we are trying to establish genuine alternatives to detention and ensure that those children who must be detained are held in humane conditions and benefit from schooling, health services, recreational opportunities, and contact with the outside world," explains Guillemette Launoy, Head of the NGO Grandir Dignement.  "The center in Niamey is now equipped with a health center, recreational spaces and runs education and vocational training activities."

The Government, with UNICEF and partners support, is currently strengthening the justice mechanisms to operate in the best interest of the child and promoting alternatives to detention, that give the children an opportunity to prove their positive capacity and qualities and tackle guilt feelings in a constructive way. "Alternative sanctions are generally far less costly than sanctions involving imprisonment. Locking up children on juvenile or criminal charges must be a matter of last resort," explains Nani
UNICEF Niger/Islamane
Niger
UNICEF Niger/Islamane
UNICEF Niger/Islamane

UNICEF, along with partners, has committed itself to supporting efforts to improve justice for children in Niger and support the establishment of child sensitive courts and police procedures that give primary consideration to a child’s right to protection.

Every year, the Day of the African Child is celebrated annually on 16 June and commemorates the thousands of courageous children in Soweto, South Africa who marched in 1976 to protest apartheid and to demand equal education. The children’s legacy – hundreds of whom were wounded or killed – continues to build a better future for African children.

UNICEF Justice for Children programme is partially funded by the German Cooperation (BMZ) in Niger