On the day of the African child, take concrete action to ensure access to child-friendly justice for children

Source: On the day of the African child, take concrete action to ensure access to child-friendly justice for children – The Zimbabwean

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins the rest of the continent in commemorating Day of the African Child.

Commemorated annually on 16 June, Day of the African Child honours the
memories of students who were massacred in South Africa, in 1976 for
protesting against education injustice and inequality in the apartheid
regime.This day was designated in 1991 by then the Organisation of African
Union and calls for serious introspection and commitment towards
addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the
continent.

In 2020, Day of the African Child is being commemorated under the
theme; “Access to Child Friendly Justice in Africa”. The theme draws
urgent attention to African governments to develop strategies to
improve child justice systems and take bold steps to ensure the
protection and promotion of the rights of all children is prioritised.

As the theme goes, access to a child friendly justice system is one of
the fundamental entitlements of the child, which gives meaning to the
other rights and freedoms through enabling enforcement of the rights.

A child friendly justice system ensures that children are able to make
meaningful use of the instruments of law enforcement, administration,
judicial processes, as well as informal mechanisms of justice.

However, despite growing acceptance of this standard, access to a
child friendly justice system remains largely beyond the reach to the
vast majority of children in Zimbabwe.

As we commemorate Day of the African Child, ZLHR commends the
Zimbabwean government and some development partners for launching the
pre-trial diversion programme for juvenile offenders, which is going a
long way towards ensuring that young offenders get an opportunity for
rehabilitation away from the conventional criminal justice system.

The pre-trial diversion programme for juveniles is aimed at ensuring
that offenders receive rehabilitative, educative and restorative
support through training so as to reintegrate them into society
without the stigma of a criminal record.

For those juveniles accused of more serious offences that are not
catered for in the pre-trial diversion programme, justice can only be
realised if they are allowed to exercise their inalienable right to
legal representation throughout the criminal proceedings. This makes
it imperative for legal aid to be broadened to enable all juveniles
including those whose families are unable to afford lawyers’ fees to
benefit.

However, despite growing acceptance of this standard, access to a
child friendly justice system remains largely beyond the reach to the
vast majority of children in Zimbabwe and on the continent.

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic which is disrupting
access to essential services for children including education,
health-care and food among other basic necessities, access to justice
is critical.

The overbearing and overriding measures adopted by governments in a
bid to ensure safety and security in the context of a health pandemic
has further diminished the opportunities for children to access
mechanisms of justice.

Access to justice is a fundamental right in itself and is an essential
pre-requisite for the promotion and protection of all other human
rights and is a means for the exercise of other universally recognised
human rights.

Without ensuring access to justice, children’s  rights enshrined in
the Children’s Act, the Constitution and in various continental and
international instruments of which Zimbabwe is a state party, will
remain promises on paper that do not serve the interests of children.
In the best interests of the child, ZLHR will continue to advocate for
children’s right to access child friendly justice and calls upon
government to;

o    Expedite the promulgation and revision of all relevant laws to
address juvenile justice issues including establishing a distinct
criminal justice system for children;

o    Fully align the Children’s Act to the Constitution, including
reviewing the Children’s Act to incorporate and ensure that the
justice mechanism system embrace the best interests of the child as
paramount in all matters concerning the child;

o    Expand the pre-trial diversion programme and invest in children’s
education for a better post-coronavirus world.

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