Child Rights Protection Act brings justice to Somaliland children
Testimonies of rights and reform
Seventeen years old *Mohamed recalls that two years ago he was arrested in his neighborhood and taken to the local police station where he spent several days.
“Policemen came to my neighborhood and arrested me. I was taken to the local police station and after several days I was taken to the court where I was charged. They said I had stolen something. I was a student then,” Mohamed said sadly.
Children can become involved with the law due to various reasons. The common ones are petty crimes or offences such fighting or use of drugs. At times, children who engage in criminal behaviour have been used or coerced by adults. Other times they can be wrongfully charged.
“I came across Mohamed’s case during my routine visit to Hargeisa magistrate court in August 2021. He was among adult prisoners who were brought to the court for their cases to be heard. He was already sentenced to four years and six months,” says Naima Bile, a lawyer with UNICEF partner Children's Legal Defense Center (CLDC).
In Somaliland, children accused of crimes are still prosecuted in the adult justice system thus subjecting them to adult jails, where they are often denied adequate resources and the mental health and rehabilitative services they need. They also lack legal representation and usually can’t afford lawyers as the judicial systems are not well equipped to meet children’s rights and needs.
“During my incarceration I was jailed together with adult inmates, some who were using drugs, and some children were influenced to take drugs. It was hard for me to cope, I had nightmares sometimes because of the condition of the cell we were detained in,” Mohamed explained.
In addition, children often have no knowledge of their rights. The most vulnerable cases are children from minority groups, children with disabilities and migrant children.
“As CLDC we took the liberty to appeal Mohamed’s case. Apart from being underage his single mother was not able to hire a lawyer. We appealed his sentence in 2021, but unfortunately the appeal court upheld the initial lower court sentence of four and half years,” stated Nimo.
Mohamed’s reprieve came after Somaliland passed a landmark Child Rights Protection Act (CPA) in October 2022, while he was still in prison. The CPA is geared to protect children from all forms of abuse and neglect.
“Since my arrest, I wasted close to three years of time I could have been in school. I had too much time to think of how I can be better. I’m so grateful for the efforts made to secure my release and now I see how the law can bring justice. I will resume my education, as my aspiration is to become a judge,” Mohamed said.
UNICEF, through the generous support from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), works with partners like the Somaliland Ministry of Social Affairs & Employment Services (MESAF), who, together, supported the drafting and enactment of the CPA.
“The ushering of the Child Rights Protection Act allowed us to lodge a second appeal. We based our case on this Act that protected child rights. After months of litigation, we saw his release after serving two years,” explained Bile.
Another case taken on by CLDC is with *Ahmed. “We were playing football when a fight between two groups happened. Policemen later came to our house and arrested me, saying I was in a gang” Ahmed narrated.
“In prison we were punished with beatings and water was deliberately poured on our beds,” Ahmed added.
“We noted that the courts applied the criminal procedure act for adults to charge Ahmed. Given the introduction of the CPA and him being a minor, we tried his case on this basis. The courts realized he should not remain in remand. We succeeded in reducing his case to a lesser charge,” explained Abdi of CLDC.
“Ahmed was wrongfully charged and if he was convicted at that time, it would have resulted in a ten-year sentence. By utilizing the CPA and the fact that he is a child, we succeeded in lowering his charge that resulted in a six-month jail. But given that he already served this period in the remand he was then released to go home,” said Abdi.
Ahmed says, “I was studying at a technical training institute for two months when I was arrested. I missed important months of my study. I’m grateful to get my freedom now and am looking to get back to my education. I know this is what is most important.”
“For a long time, due to the lack of the CPA within penal code, we saw children being accused and charges under the general criminal procedure act. Even after the passing of CPA it will continue to happen if no efforts to entrench the CPA within the justice systems are taken and judicial officers are orientation. As CLDC we’ll create awareness with officials to apply and refer to the Child Rights Protection Act when dealing with children’s cases” explained CLDC’s Managing Lawyer, Idriss Abdi.
Detention usually takes a toll on children’s mental wellbeing and restriction on physical activity can hinder their development. By closely working with partners and authorities, UNICEF supports initiatives that allow children to be reformed and reintegrate. Also, alongside authorities and justice institutions, UNICEF trains judicial and prosecutorial officers on child-friendly and gender sensitive approaches. Treating children as children, giving them psychosocial support and re-educating them builds their self-worth and ability to have a productive future.