Juvenile Offenders Struggle To Access Justice

2650 Views Gulu, Uganda

In short
Juvenile offenders in Gulu and other surrounding areas are facing a dilemma in accessing justice due to neglect from the state institutions prescribed to cater for them. The institutions ranging from the Child and Family court, Police and the Child Remand Homes have failed to institute adequate facilities and provisions to help children who come into conflict with the law to access justice.

Juvenile offenders in Gulu and other surrounding areas are facing a dilemma in accessing justice due to neglect from the state institutions prescribed to cater for them.  
 
The institutions ranging from the Child and Family court, Police and the Child Remand Homes have failed to institute adequate facilities and provisions to help children who come into conflict with the law to access justice.
 
Christine Atim, the Head of Child and Family protection Unit at Gulu Central Police Station admits that the child suspects who are taken to the station often face mistreatment as they wait to get justice for their various cases. She explained that most times the children spend longer hours in the police cells as they wait for the outcome of investigations into their cases.  She disclosed that the children starve while in the police cells because only a meal is provided everyday at 2pm, a meal she described as kibao, Swahili word used to describe something very small to achieve satisfaction. Atim appealed to parents to always try to resolve the matters involving children amicably.
 
//Cue in: “I sympathize, the food…”
Cue out: “…punishment for the side of a child.”//
 
The ordeal however, does not stop only in the police cells. Once produced before the courts, the children face further discrimination because unlike their adult counterparts, there is no provision for legal representation for them. Mike Okonye, the Gulu magistrate in charge of the Child and Family court explains that while the constitution makes it mandatory for capital offenders to access legal representation, children are not provided for. As a result, Okonye said the process to deliver justice for children is delayed and sometimes denied. He appealed to government to make provisions that would make legal representation for child suspects mandatory.
 
//Cue in: “Under our constitution…”
Cue out: “…it makes justice very slow.”//
 
At the Gulu Remand Home, where the child suspects are supposed to stay while awaiting trial, the living condition makes it appear like the children are already serving an order. Moses Kilama, the head of the Home explains that they are only able to provide the children with small ration of meals comprising beans and posho, except on major public holidays like Christmas when he said they prepare meat and rice depending on the availability of money.
 
Kilama said they expect to engage in cultivation of vegetable to reinforce their capacity to provide alternative meals for a balanced diet, which he said is a prerequisite for the growth of children. He said he is afraid that unless the poor facilities are addressed the centre may not be of help to the children. The remand home, the only such facility in the entire northern region receives child suspects from several other districts but relies on insufficient financial support from Gulu district local government.
 
//Cue in: “We have breakfast…”
Cue out: “…buy for them meat and rice.”//
 
In Uganda, there are four remand homes in Gulu, Fort Portal, Naguru and Mbale with the national rehabilitation centre at Kampiringisa in Mpigi, where children whose cases have been approved are detained.
 
The failure by government to adequately provide for the child suspects contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that all rights apply to all children without exception, and the state is obliged to protect children from any form of discrimination. The State must not violate any right and must take positive action to promote them all.
 
The Convention adds that Children alleged or recognized as having committed an offence have the right to respect for their human rights and, in particular, to benefit from all aspects of the due process of law, including legal or other assistance in preparing and presenting their defence.