Day of the African Child 2020.
Every 16 June, the African Union and its Member States observe the Day of the African Child (DAC) as a commemoration of the 16th June 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa, where students who marched in protest against apartheid-inspired education, were brutally murdered.
To celebrate the children of Africa calls for serious introspection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges they face in Africa.
The theme of DAC 2020 theme is ‘Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa’ as adopted by the African Union Executive Council, during its 34th Ordinary Session, held on 07 – 08 February 2019. (Source:https://au.int/en/newsevents/20200616/day-african-child-2020)
This year’s theme resonates with us at Speak Out Africa because we are passionate about driving advocacy for prison reforms.
There are several laws and policies in place for the protection of the African Child, however, its effectiveness is called to question. An example is the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). In Nigeria, we also have the Child Rights Act 2003. Of the 36 states of the Federation, only 21 States have domesticated this Act. Even in states where the Child Rights Act is operative, the implementation leaves much to be desired.
In October 2018, Speak Out Africa visited several maximum prisons in Nigeria for the implementation of her #Letitflow initiative. In one of the Prisons, we met a 14-year-old girl who was in custody alongside other adult female inmates.
The law recognizes that children and indeed young persons can be in conflict with the law as juvenile delinquency is not an alien concept. Where juveniles run afoul of the law, they face the consequence thereof. However, the manner they are treated from the point of the commission of the offence until they receive whatever punishment the law prescribes and all other processes in between should be observed with the best interest of the child.
The young girl we met who for protection we will refer to as Miss J had in a fight with a fellow young girl and age mate hit her with a log of wood and the injury resulted in death thereafter. She was arrested, arraigned at the Magistrate court and remanded in Prison. A murder charge was subsequently filed against her at the High Court after two years she was in prison custody. Eventually, in 2019, three years of her incarceration and before trial for the offence began, she received a pardon from the Chief Justice of the State.
Although she was eventually pardoned, the little girl’s story casts a light on the workings of the justice system and emphasizes the need for a child-friendly justice system. Ordinarily, a child- friendly justice system should ensure speedy handling of all matters pertaining to young persons. A child should under no circumstance be in custody with adults.
A child-friendly justice system must have as its cardinal objective, to reform, re-integrate and rehabilitate child offenders. It would ensure speedy and unclog access to justice, free of technicalities and several administrative bottlenecks. And in situations where children are the victims of criminality, the goal should be the same; applying child rights-based approach in policy documents, laws and the justice system.