The African Child Policy Forum and Defence for Children International held a global conference in Kampala on 7-8 November 2011 to highlight the destructive impact on deprivation of liberty for children. The conference highlighted the critical importance of access to justice for children in Africa, whose rights are frequently denied and violated. The conference documents summarise the current situation: ‘Children accused of committing offences are held in pre-trial detention for months or longer, at risk of violence from staff, peers and adult detainees, and without education, sufficient food and health care.’ The aims of the conference were to raise awareness of key stakeholders and decision-makers of the gaps in the law and practice of African justice systems, to identify and share good practices in child-friendly justice and promote linking and learning in Africa and globally. It also aimed to contribute to the development of Guidelines of the African Union on child-friendly justice to assist states in Africa to establish justice systems responding to the specific needs of children.
It brought together around 300 participants, both African and international, to share expertise and good practice. PRI’s Executive Director gave a presentation on monitoring places of detention for children, drawing attention to the international standards applying in this area and the practical steps needed to implement these. It summarised the findings of a recent monitoring project carried out in Tanzania by the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance, in which 65 detention facilities for children were visited and highlighted the findings – which revealed that:
- Many children are held in police stations for longer than 24 hours before being brought to court.
- Many children do not have age records and cannot establish whether they are under the age of criminal responsibility.
- Police officers do not always identify themselves to arrested and detained children, or specify the reason for arrest.
- One third of the children interviewed said they had been tortured or subject to violent and inhumane treatment.
- Children’s families were not always notified of their arrest.
- Children were not always kept separately from adults – and conditions were generally poor.
The conference concluded with discussion and approval of a Declaration setting out principles of child-friendly justice and the need for action to enforce fair trial rights for children in conflict and in contact with the law.
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