This article sets to highlight the challenges children who come into contact with the law in Zambia face and suggests possible solutions towards a more child-friendly justice system that addresses their issues within their unique vulnerabilities and what is in their best interests.
Challenges in the Zambian Justice system
Children come into contact with the law in different ways. Either for family matters of adoption, administrative issues such as immigration or criminal cases as offenders, victims or witnesses. However, despite Zambia being party to numerous International and Regional Treaties and human rights instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), there still exist numerous gaps in the Justice system, exposing children to traumatic experiences in an intimidating and often daunting environment. Most duty bearers are ignorant of children’s rights and how to handle children’s cases. Therefore, they take a punitive approach as opposed to a restorative and rehabilitative one. Police brutality is common and children are often treated just like adults, sometimes even placed in the same crowded holding cells, exposing them to associated health issues and sodomy.
The delayed Social Welfare reports further delay the appearance of the children before the Magistrates and confirmation orders for Approved and Reformatory Schools, causing the children to stay longer for even up to years while some coming out worse than they went in to no proper aftercare for reintegration into their families and communities. Hence, perpetuating the cycle of recidivism.
In light of all these and many other challenges, we should seriously ponder and carefully plan on how to create a child-friendly Justice system in Zambia by eliminating all forms of violation of their rights and enhance access to it. For like adults, children too deserve justice.
➢ Establish child-friendly courts and roll out diversion in all Provinces and Districts.
➢ Establish and strengthen more community structures for alternative case resolution.
➢ Popularize and domesticate the child rights instruments Zambia is party to so the citizenry, including children as rights holders can demand for their rights.
➢ Enhance the capacity of duty bearers in the Justice system through training in child rights, restorative child justice.
➢ Mindset change and transformation trainings to improve the attitudes of duty bearers towards children so that they are treated within their unique vulnerabilities and what is in their best interests.
➢ Community awareness raising through IEC materials, drama, poetry, song, electronic media campaigns through radio and TV.