Windhoek-The Namibian Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare in partnership with United Nations International Children’s Emergency fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to ensure that children in the country have access to child-friendly justice.
The development comes as Namibia joins the African Union in reflecting on the challenges that still face children who are in conflict with the law.
Information shows that Namibia is commitment to build a child-friendly justice system. This is evident through the enactment of the Child Care and Protection Act No.3 of 2015 that recognized fundamental principles of child-friendly justice system. The Act, which is in line with the Convention of the Rights of the Child and African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children has resulted in various capacity development exercise of all key government staff to ensure that fundamental principles of child-friendly justice system contained in the Act, are adhered.
Speaking at the Day of the African Day Child in Windhoek, UNICEF Representative to Namibia, Rachel Odede said that a child–friendly justice system should ensure that the best interest of the child is given primary consideration.
“It should be a system that better serves and protects all children irrespective of who they are,” said Odede. “Despite the adoption of laws that are specific to children by African governments and the considerable investment into the protection of children, scores of children are still unable to access or benefit from child-friendly justice systems in a meaningful way for a number of reasons.”
According to global reports 1 million children worldwide are detained by law enforcement officials. In many prisons and institutions, children and young persons are often denied the right to medical care, education and individual development.
“When the child is believed to have committed a crime, the way the justice system responds can have a lifelong impact whether positive or negative. Following the principles established by the Convention on the Rights of a Child, we need to treat any procedure or case with special attention for their wellbeing, needs and with full respect for their physical and psychological integrity, irrespective of their capacity or legal status,” said Odede.
Speaking at the multi-sectoral organising committee panel discussion, 15- year old Emma Paulus said that jails and detention should be last resort for children in conflict with the law.
“Petty crimes where a child steals bread from the supermarket should be seen as a protection issue. A child might be hungry, from a poor household and in need of protection. Therefore, the system should be able to differentiate children in conflict with law and the children in need of protection,” said Emma.
Meanwhile, the Namibia Police force in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, embarked on training for Law Enforcement Officials with focus on dealing with Children in Conflict with the Law. The training which is supported by UNICEF, aims to equip law enforcement and other officers on the ground in responding to child protection issues and supporting children in conflict with the law during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day of the African Child has been celebrated on 16 June every year since 1991 when it was first initiated by the organization of African Unity to honour the memory of those killed and the courage of all those who marched. It reflects the 1976 Soweto march in South Africa, where thousands of African school children took their grievances to the streets and protested against the inferior quality of their education and demand their right to be taught in their own language. More than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured.