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Somaliland launches new Juvenile law

© UNICEF Somalia/2008/NWZ office
Some of the participants in the national conference on the Juvenile law.

By Priyadharshini Dias
Justice for Children Specialist, UNICEF/UNDP-Rule of Law and Security

9 October, 2008 - The administration of Somaliland (Northwest Somalia) officially launched the new Juvenile Justice Law at a national conference held from 28 to 31 August 2008. The occasion was organized by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with UNICEF and UNDP. The primary aim of this Law is to provide fair justice system aimed at protecting and promoting the physical and mental well-being and personal development of child offenders while fostering the child’s sense of dignity and worth.

Participants in the conference included the Minister of Justice, Mr.  Ahmed  Hassan Ali and about 140 participants who are key actors in the Juvenile  justice  system  -  judges,  prosecutors, police, custodial corps officers,  officials  from  the Ministry of Justice, the Minister of Family Affairs & Social Development,  parliamentarians, civil society representatives, traditional  elders,  religious  leaders, academicians and regional justice for  children  committees. Several street children who have been in contact with the law and youth representatives also actively participated in the proceedings and shared their experiences.

The new law aims to achieve justice for children by introducing provisions protecting the rights of children in legal proceedings. It establishes various  new  institutions  such  as  Children’s Courts, Children’s Police, Social Probation Office, Children Pre-trial Detention Centres, and Children Rehabilitation  Centres  in  addition  to  various procedures and processes which are not yet in operation in Somaliland.

Presently around 80% of cases involving children are dealt with by traditional elders. In the case of this informal justice system practiced in Somaliland, it is designed to keep the peace.  In this context the punishment is targeted towards the clan and not the individual perpetrator and compensation may not go to the victim but to the family or the clan of the victim. Therefore it is not victim or accused centred and understands that both offenders and victims are part of the community.

“The  objective of this new law is  to  provide  a fair and humane children justice system aimed  at  protecting  and promoting the physical and mental well-being and personal  development  of child offenders while fostering the child’s sense of  dignity  and  worth,”  said Paul Fiszman, Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF. “It aims to protect the rights of children in accordance with International Conventions and International Human Rights Law and in a manner consistent with local, cultural and Islamic values. The law further harmonises the provisions of Secular, Sharia and Somali Customary laws relating to children in conflict with law.”


© UNICEF Somalia/2008/NWZ office
Priyadharshini Dias (left) Justice for Children specialist speaks at the closure of the conference.

The new Juvenile  Justice  Law  declares  the  age of criminal liability to be between  15  to  18  years,  and requires the  punishment  to  be  imposed  to be proportionate  to the circumstances of the child, the gravity and nature of the  offence.  It limits maximum punishment to 15 years and prohibits corporal punishment, life imprisonment and death penalty. The law sets out protective measures relating to the child’s record and ensures clear child participation and child rights during proceedings.

A  Child  Welfare  and  Protection  Committee and an independent  Board  of  Directors  are established to  manage  the  Children Rehabilitation Centres  and develop  rules  and  procedures.

The Justice for Children office is set up as part of the inter agency cooperation between UNICEF and UNDP’s Rule of Law and Security (ROLS) Programme. The office is playing a catalyst role in collaborating with the administration of Somaliland to  implement  the new law by way of construction of buildings, institutional  and capacity development and  formulation of regulations and policies while keeping in mind the smooth transition from traditional law to the formal   justice  system  in  order  to  ensure  effective  continuity  and sustainability in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

As  declared  eloquently  by  one  of the children at the launch ‘‘we thank Allah  for  enabling  us  to  be together and to discuss this law. Juvenile Justice  is  me and I want to be educated so that I will have a Ministerial position in the future’’.



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