NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’s juvenile justice system (JJS) falls short of international and regional standards, hence numerous calls for its reform.
The 2021 situation analysis of the status and well-being of children in Zambia, conducted on the country’s JJS, highlights several challenges in the system.
For example, the existing Zambian JJS, according to the research, is not sufficiently performing its intended aim of delivering a child-friendly and sensitive justice system.
The system is said to be punitive, with extended periods of child incarceration for small offences, a dearth of alternative sentencing options, and community-based rehabilitative facilities.
Additionally, the age of criminal responsibility is eight years, with some restrictions in place to prosecute a child under the age of 12 years.
Juveniles are often imprisoned for minor breaches, often following criminal proceedings in which they were not represented by counsel.
Detained children are at risk of rape while held with adults (including adults incarcerated on accusations of defilement of a minor) in some facilities.
The aforementioned are contrary to the provisions indicated in the 2010 Human Rights report titled ‘Unjust and unhealthy’, which states that international law expects countries to provide special protection for children in detention.
According to the report, children should only be imprisoned as a last option and for the shortest possible period of time; detained children should also be segregated from adults.
Advocacy for Child Justice (ACJ) executive director Josephat Njovu shares similar concerns and cites other literature such as the Auditor-General’s performance report for the years from 2014 to 2017 released in 2018, and the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS) report on Children Deprived of Liberty in Detention and Correctional Facilities in Zambia released in 2018 which reveal several shortcomings in the implementation of national, international and regional standards for treating children who are in conflict with the law in Zambia.
“According to the 2015 National Child Policy (NCP), children who are in conflict with the law must be treated with dignity and compassion, while respecting their legal rights and implementing legal safeguards in all processes.
Several of these recommendations have not yet been implemented, which leaves the challenges unresolved and, therefore, the need for reform has been recognised as a priority,” Mr Njovu says.
It is against this background that Government under the MCDSS in collaboration with line ministries, civil society organisations, cooperating partners and other stakeholders worked together to develop and launch the National Juvenile Justice Strategy and Action Plan 2022-2026 intended to reform Zambia’s JJS.
Minister of Community Development and Social Services Doreen Mwamba said the goal of the strategy is to ‘reduce the rate of child offending and reoffending, ensuring the rehabilitation and reintegration of juveniles’.
Ms Mwamba said the strategy is an important tool as its operationalisation is expected to create a platform for a JJS that promotes the rights and welfare of every juvenile.
“The JJ strategy brings the Zambian JJS in conformity with the best practices and international standards which ensure care and protection of the rights of juveniles,” she said.
Ms Mwamba says Government in the 2022 budget has allocated over K3 million for juvenile welfare and probation services, adding that the resources will be used to ensure the welfare of juveniles in conflict with the law is upheld.
Consolidating Government’s position, Vice-President WK Mutale Nalumango says the JJ Strategy has been developed in the context of the national child reform efforts.
Ms Nalumango believes the JJ Strategy presents a great opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to deliver a child justice system that speaks to Zambia’s goals and aspirations.
She views the JJ Strategy as a crucial tool for empowering the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, social welfare officers, non-governmental organisations and other service providers in discharging their work.
“I therefore note with great appreciation that the strategy has an implementation matrix and ascribes roles to various institutions,” Ms Nalumango says.
She urges stakeholders to partner with Government in the provision of technical and financial support to upscale and improve the justice system sector in response to the current demands.
Ms Nalumango believes that in this way, the newly launched strategy will become a formidable tool not only meant to reduce child offending but also one that goes further in advancing community-based rehabilitation programmes such as counselling and family-focused support programmes, among others.
Moreover, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) considers the development and launch of the Strategy and Action Plan as a plus for juvenile justice reforms in Zambia.
Unicef Country Director Noala Skinner believes juvenile justice means working for juvenile rehabilitation, keeping minors separate from adult criminal offenders and providing care and protection for children.
Ms Skinner is of the view that exposure of children to the criminal justice system, especially in pre-trial detention or incarceration, can cause harm, including limiting access to education.
This is why she considers the Strategy and Action Plan a great milestone in Zambia’s journey to improve the juvenile justice system.
The Judiciary, which chairs the Child Justice Forum (CJF), is also in support of the development and launch of the Strategy and Action Plan, saying that it gives a road map on the reform of Zambia’s JJ system.
Chief Justice Mumba Malila is encouraged that the Strategy and Action Plan does not only identify the gaps and existing challenges but that it charts a course on how the problems can be addressed.
Dr Malila has implored members of the CJF to constantly and actively participate in the reforms taking place in the child justice sector.
“Emerging trends around the world with regard to child justice is to identify and adequately address delinquency. Our role as an institution is speedy justice for all, especially children,” he said.
Dr Malila boasts of interventions that the Judiciary has implemented in order to improve the JJ system such as establishing juvenile justice courts countrywide, among others.
Despite challenges that the JJ system has faced in Zambia, it is obvious to see that Government is not rolling over and playing dead with regard to reforms in the sector.
The launch of the Strategy and Action Plan is indicative that Zambia is on course towards attaining a juvenile justice sector in compliance with international standards.
Source – Daily Mail