Justice for children
Developing a child friendly and responsive justice system
For children in contact with the law, being put into prison should only be a last resort and for the shortest time possible. However, this basic right, as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is all too frequently ignored in Uganda.
Vulnerable children, such as those living on the streets, are particularly likely to be arrested and detained for a wide array of minor or ‘status’ offences such as vagrancy, petty theft or use of abusive language. Beating during arrest and confinement is common. Because of the lack of birth certificates and proof of age, children are often detained when they are under the age of criminal responsibility (12 years).
Despite increased awareness of the necessity to separate children from adults in detention, the lack of separate holding facilities in many police stations puts children at risk of physical and sexual abuse. Many have no access to legal representation and are denied visits from parents or relatives. Bail conditions are stringent and not easily accessible to children.
In other parts of the country, children are tried in open adult courts, creating an intimidating atmosphere. Magistrates use the same procedure for children as for adults, which does not take into account the best interests of the child.
Some progress, however, has been made for children in conflict with the law. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is about to approve statutory diversion guidelines, which will fulfil the country’s obligation to promote detention as a last resort for children in conflict with the law.
The UNICEF-supported Justice for Children programme has shifted focus from juvenile justice to an all-encompassing mandate of justice for children, including offenders, witnesses, missing children and child victims of illegal adoptions. One area of success has been a reduction in the time juveniles spend in detention before sentencing, from an average of five to three months.
With UNICEF support, the judiciary recently appointed a magistrate to Naguru Remand Home in the capital, Kampala, to expedite the dismissal of minor offence cases.
To create a child-friendly and responsive justice system, UNICEF is supporting the Government by:
- Standardizing child-friendly legal aid for children in conflict and in contact with the law across the justice system.
- Institutionalizing quality diversion standards across the justice sector.
- Strengthening institutional and technical capacity of the justice sector and its professionals to improve children’s access to child-friendly justice and delivery of legal services.
- Reinforcing national capacity in monitoring and reporting on key child justice indicators in annual child justice progress reports.
- Advocating the ratification of international laws and treaties, including the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption and Optional Protocol on trafficking in persons, especially of women and children.
#InvestInUGchildren: Realize Uganda’s Vision 2040