Child Justice Bill and Children Amendment Bill drafting workshop set for in Kadoma

After a labouring period of policy making, technical research and country-wide consultations, the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs (MoJLPA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Work (MoPSLSW), with technical support from the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR), as well as financial support from the Spotlight Initiative through UNICEF Zimbabwe and the Delegation of the European Union (EU), is in the final stages of completing the alignment of the Children’s Act to the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The Children’s Act provides a legal framework that safeguards the welfare and best interests of a child. In 2015, the executive wing of government resolved to have a separate piece of legislation that deals exclusively with instances where children come into conflict with the law for committing crimes such as theft, sleeping with minors amongst others. To this end, the two aforementioned ministries will conduct a peer-reviewing exercise of the Children’s Amendment Bill and Child Justice Bill through a write-shop scheduled to take place from the 20th to the 22nd of October 2020 at Kadoma Ranch Hotel.

Children’s Amendment Bill and the Constitution

The Children’s Amendment Bill principally focuses on ensuring compliance with section 19, as read with section 81 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which grants every child the right to be protected from economic and sexual exploitation, from child labour, and maltreatment, neglect or any form of abuse. The Bill primarily hinges on the principle of the best interest of the child which finds its basis in Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of Children. The Bill will address some of the following critical issues:

  1. the criminalisation of adults who facilitates indulgence of children in pornography-related activities,
  2. prohibition of child trafficking, placing a statutory duty on medical practitioners, and
  3. providing protection to children who may grow up without their biological parents.

Child Justice Bill

The Child Justice Bill is a new phenomenon in Zimbabwe. In 2019, the IMT conducted grassroots consultations throughout Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. Also held were interest groups’ technical consultations of groups lobbying for children’s rights. In December 2019 a write-shop was held for this bill, but due to its envisaged technicalities and overlapping issues with the Children’s Amendment Bill, the process was not completed. This Bill will, for the first time in Zimbabwe’s jurisprudence, provide a separate juvenile justice system centred on principles of restoration and rehabilitation of the child offender in accordance with clause 6 of the proposed Bill. It will also repeal sections 6 and 7 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23] that perpetuate the discrimination of child offenders below 14 years of age and those above 14 years. The proposed bill will adopt a modern and universal standard with regards to criminal capacity as required by Article 40(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children and ensure the minimum criminal age of responsibility is set at 12 years.

The Bill also gives effect to section 81 of the Constitution by ensuring the best interest of the child is prioritised through the prohibition of automatic detention; necessitating exhaustion of the option of pre-trial diversion; and placing a duty on the probation officer to disclose psychological, welfare and other relevant background information that may have led the child to juvenile delinquency. Two key and important features are the establishment of a specialised child justice court with trained judicial officers and establishment of child justice committees at the district, provincial and national levels to monitor, safeguard, and promote access to justice for young offenders as provided for in part IX of the model Child Justice Bill.

The Children’s Act is administered by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare whereas the Child Justice Bill if enacted, will be administered by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. There is still a need to clarify how the pre-trial diversion officers will liaise with probation officers when assessing the relevant history required by the juvenile justice system.

The write-shop provides a platform for administrative ministries, children’s rights legal experts, technocrats and special interest groups to convene and refine the draft model bill and amendment bill before they are submitted to Parliament. This is the last phase in the IMT law-making process to guarantee that all recommendations have been taken on board before the bills are submitted to Parliament.