Law

In defence of Juvenile Justice System

At a parley recently, the Federal Government, UNICEF, EU and other stakeholders endorsed the establishment of a Juvenile justice system for child offenders and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. TUNDE OYESINA reports

 

Stakeholders in the justice sector have made make strong case for the establishment of Juvenile Justice System in the country. This according to their various submissions, will afford any under-aged accused of any crime, a fair hearing. In 2019, the UN Global study on children deprived of liberty estimated that more than 7 million children per year are deprived of their liberty.

 

The number of these children according to report included those affected by violence abuse, exploitation or in arbitrary detention. The report has it that although today, the menace of children on the move has rekindled stakeholders’ interest and fuelled their agitations, it has however, been difficult estimating it, due to what they described as weak information management systems across the globe.

 

The children in questions according to reports have diverse profiles; children forcibly displaced from borders countries affected by conflict particularly Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic.

 

Meanwhile, it is a common knowledge that Section 215 of the Child Rights Act (CRA) and Article 37 of the UNCRC prohibit arbitrary detention of juveniles.

 

The Article stipulated further that the detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort for the shortest possible period. Recently, a nine-year-old girl was alleged to have been responsible for a fire incident that razed down a popular supermarket in Abuja.

 

This case is however still under investigation by the Nigerian Police . Instances like this have brought to bare, issues of innocent children which domiciled at social centres and boarstal home across the country.

 

Against this backdrop, stakeholders and analysts in the judicial sector have continued to harp on the need for a comprehensive inter-agency assessment of children in conflict with the law. By their estimation, resources and efforts should also be put together in line with the law to protect the children.

Most recently too, some concerned and other global consensus described the detention of children, even for a short period of time, as a harmful practice that has profound negative impact on children health and psycho-socio development. According to them, there was a need to know the situation of children and create a system to know what affects those children directly and launch a coordinated structure to tackle it.

 

Accordingly, the principal actors and advocates got what they wanted when a discourse on the much craved Justice System for children offenders berthed recently at a Justice sector and other stakeholders forum. Chaired by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, the event has in attendance, representatives from the Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Health, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and the Nigerian Police Force.

 

Other members were drawn from the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the University of Abuja.

 

The remaining members were representatives from the Buni Yadi Foundation, United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Children’s Fund, Nigeria.

 

International Federation of Women Lawyers, the Nigerian Bar Association, National Judicial Institute, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, International Labour Organisation, International Organisation for Migration and Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.

 

Apart from throwing their weights behind the establishment of a Juvenile Justice System at the elaborate interface, they equally reiterated the need for both child offenders and child victims of rape and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) to access justice.

It would be recalled that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Nigeria’s Child Rights Act also provided legal mandate for government to create an enabling environment for effective return for children at risk of offending or those who could be alleged, accused or recognized as having broken the law.

 

While justifying the advocacy at the conference, the representative of UNICEF in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Hawkins and others who shared such notion described the move as one that would aid the protection of the children via the legal system.

 

Another stakeholder and the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, noted that his office has not ceased engaging respective Heads of Courts on why specialized courts should be established for children offenders as well as speedy and seamless trial of Rape/Gender-Based Violence Offences in the country.

 

According to UNIDO Country representatives, Oliver Cochi, the programme was an opportunity for all stakeholders to enhance efforts in making children agent of change. He said: “This is a product of our long standing relationship with the Nigerian government in its advocacy to prevent violence and exploitation against children. It has also helped our UNODC strategy for Africa in protecting children from death and enable them access justice”

 

In his goodwill message at the event, the Chief Judge of Kano State, Justice Sagir Umar, commended Federal Government for creating the platform, saying it would enhance access to justice for children.

The CJ, who was represented by Justice Maryam Sabo, decried the rising rate of out of school children in the country, adding that in Kano alone as per statistics, about two years back, there were 3. 2 million out of school children, wandering about, some hawking, begging, while some engages in drug addiction. He said: “In 2018, 1,142 cases were reported at Waraka SARC, while in 2019, 741 cases were received and only 194 were disposed of because of the high demand nature of proving the offence and stigma associated with offence. “Poverty and lack of awareness on parents are other factors.

This year, the center received 57 and 68 cases of gender-based violence in April and May, respectively.

 

There is need for government to strategize more on women empowerment and to make it a policy all over the country. “Our educational sector, especially the basic, should be revamped for all children to have access to education as their fundamental rights”.

 

 

In his speech, Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, called for stiffer sanctions against those that conscript underaged children into criminal gangs. Represented by Geraldine Okafor, the minister said: “It is a milestone in the annal for children revolution in Nigeria. Period of childhood is both delicate and vulnerable for children. It is even worse for human. “Child is dependent on adult for food, security and others.

 

Our ministry is worried about the spate of criminal gang, drug abuse and other things  beyond their mental capacity. Today, not less than 60 percent of inmates  in prisons are from broken homes and that for us, is a social misfunction capable of destroying the children. Inaugurating the Justice for Children Coordination Forum at the event, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), stressed the need for an urgent reform of the juvenile justice system in the country.

 

The AGF noted that everyday, millions of children in Africa and around the world have their rights violated, saying they were denied access to school, health care and social benefits, unduly separated from their families, and affected by exploitation, abuse and violence in their homes and communities. Malami revealed that his office had already engaged respective Heads of Courts to ensure that the specialized courts would also guarantee the speedy and seamless trial of Rape/Gender-Based Violence Offences.

 

He said: “The Federal Ministry of Justice has continued to partner with UNICEF and other donor agencies, as well as respective Heads of Courts, to train Judges and Magistrates on the implementation and enforcement of the Child Rights Act, especially on the effective use of Family Court Rules and Procedures.

 

“The project’s overall objective seeks to improve children’s access to child-friendly justice through age and gender-sensitive juvenile justice mechanisms and alternatives to detention for children on the move and vulnerable children in Nigeria.

“Everywhere, groups of children are being left behind as victims of prejudice and discrimination. Among the most vulnerable are children born into poverty, children in detention, children on the street and children with disabilities. “Yet, only a fraction of children whose rights are violated come forward and seek redress, and even fewer obtain an effective remedy.

Today, a large number of children in Nigeria are survivors of violence, including sexual violence but very few of those cases make it to the courtrooms.

“These are issues to be addressed by the EU-UNICEF Access to Justice Programme and the Justice for Children Coordination Forum. It is worthy of mention that just last year, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in partnership with UNICEF launched the 1st phase of the Amnesty and Decongestion Programme for Children deprived of liberty during COVID-19 and beyond.

 

“The Ministry commenced the second phase of the programme in May 2021 with some juveniles from Ogun State Borstal Institute currently undergoing assessment exercise to determine their psychological needs for release and reintegration”.

 

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