CHILDREN are the future of the world and thus should be protected against injustice at all costs. That is the reason why child justice should be seen as a playground for diversion and restorative justice.
A criminal justice system for children who are in contact with the law (in conflict with the law, child witnesses and victims) and children at risk of getting in conflict with the law should be established in agreement with the international obligations of United Nations Convention Rights for Children (CRC).
A criminal justice system for children should be established in order to hold preliminary inquiries which would allow for some cases involving children to be diverted away from the formal criminal justice system. That would entail the provision of child justice courts in which matters that have not been diverted are heard as well as provide a platform where a child who has been arrested should not be detained for longer periods of time than is necessary or should only be in detention if all other options have been exhausted.
The preliminary inquiry should be held within 48 hours of the child’s arrest before the first court appearance. In this preliminary inquiry, the magistrate, the child, the arresting officer, his/her parents or guardians, prosecutor and the legal aid attorney are the ones that should be present.
The main reason for holding this preliminary inquiry is to look into the matter and then decide how best to deal with the child. In this meeting, factors that may have led the child to commit the offence are discussed with consideration of the sort of environment the child lives in as well as his relationship with his family.
If there are ways for a child to be diverted away from the criminal justice system in terms of counselling, probation, foster in another family, and education and training programmes, then remand or imprisonment should be the last resort unless there is no other option or no choice but for the child to be there. However, this may depend on what kind of crime they have committed.
These programmes, if taken into consideration, may help reduce the potential of re-offending, prevent the child from having a criminal record and also prevent stigmatisation.
Some programmes that may deliver life skills may be of help too. In this category, children with problems with law would learn about topics like awareness and growth, communication skills, sexuality, crime awareness and crime prevention, gender sensitivity, family life, conflict resolution and leadership development.
Other programmes like peer/ youth mentorship, vocational skills training and entrepreneurship, family-based programmes, pre-trial community services, and recreational activities such as music, ballgames, dance, drama story-telling would be used to empower the children.
Some organisations working towards this goal such as Advocacy for Child Justice (ACJ) believe it is imperative to promote access to child justice and champion restorative justice.
Restorative justice is where a peace and healing process is facilitated between the victim and the offender so they can have a one-on-one meeting. In this case, the offender often has to show remorse and apologise to the victim and explain why they committed the offence.
Restoration also provides a platform for the victim to air their views and show how the offence has impacted on them. Usually, both parties have to say what and how they are feeling. This may encourage the child offender to be accountable and responsible for the offence they committed.
Diversion programmes should be viewed as a way of preventing offences, early intervention, alternative sentencing as well as reintegration into the family and community.
This also makes it easier for the people working with the child-offenders to assist with rehabilitation so that the children could contribute or give back to society. Children’s rights should be respected, protected and promoted.
Involving children more in the community and the programmes mentioned above would ensure child-offenders become aware of their rights, know more about how they could avoid offending and re-offending, learn how to go back to society and become responsible citizens.
If more of these programmes are adopted, children in contact with the law and those at risk would better their lives.
Diversion and the other programmes suggested would definitely bring about positivity and encourage children to do better unlike sending them to prisons where they would come back worse than they were. Apparently prison could be a university for criminals. So we should do everything possible and legal to ensure children do not go to jail.