IMT holds Northern Region Stakeholder Consultations on the Child Justice Bill

The Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on the Alignment of Legislation to the Constitution (IMT)

held a Northern Region Stakeholder consultation workshop for the Child Justice Bill at Rainbow Towers in Harare, from the 15th to the 16th of August 2019, with support from the European Union- United Nations Spotlight Initiative, and UNICEF Zimbabwe and technical support from the Centre for Applied Legal Research (CALR).

 

In his opening remarks, Mr J. Mukaratirwa (Director, Drafting Attorney General’s Office) said that the Ministry of Justice, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs (MoJLPA) co-ordinates the alignment process, and that the Ministry is committed to expedite the alignment process. He told the stakeholders that the IMT had conducted consultations on the Children’s Act and various stakeholders had identified the need to have a separate legislation to regulate the child justice system. As such, proposals were made to come up with a Child Justice Bill.

 

The proposed Child Justice Bill seeks to have a separate Justice System for children in conflict with the law or children alleged to have committed an offence. The proposed bill is based on regional and international best practices and aims to safeguard and protect children who are in conflict with the law through appropriate and just measures.

 

Professor G. Feltoe from CALR in his presentation elaborated that the Child Justice Bill provided a legal framework designed to offer a restorative justice system i.e. that child offenders must be rehabilitated and reconciled with victims and the community at large. Further, he stressed that the Bill would incorporate the Pre-trial diversion programme which was currently being implemented outside any legal framework. In addition, the Bill makes provision for the creation of child justice courts to handle child related criminal cases. .

 

Furthermore, Professor Feltoe pointed out that the thrust of the Bill is to keep child offenders out of custody as much as possible. An important aspect of the Bill is that it raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 years of age. This means that children below the age of 12 will be considered to lack criminal capacity.

 

The MoJLPA also presented the ministry’s position on the Child Justice Bill. The Ministry stressed that proposed legislation must give effect to constitutional provisions such as; the best interests of the child, presumption of innocence, right to legal representation, fair trail and that it should be anchored on human dignity, as well as the right to life (children not to be subjected to death penalty).

 

Several stakeholders presented their views on the challenges in the country’s child justice system and opportunities for reform. Ms. Tsitsi Masengure from the Justice for Children Trust pointed out that there is an urgent need to align the Children’s Act with the Constitution. She emphasized that the Pre-Trial Diversion Programme should be extended to all districts in the country so that children in the remote areas benefit from the programme. She applauded the proposed Child Justice Bill as it is centered on the right to liberty, right to human dignity, right to equal treatment before the law and other constitutional provisions.

 

Day two of the workshop was set for group discussions; these group discussions gave the diverse stakeholders an opportunity to air the concerns that should be addressed by the envisaged child justice system. Some of the concerns noted include the following:

  • Lack of separate rooms at police stations for PTD assessments
  • Lack of resources for the Legal Aid Directorate to legally represent child offenders
  • Court facilities are not conducive for children with disabilities
  • Inaccuracy of tradition age estimation methods like dental checks in cases where a child does not have a birth certificate
  • Absence of sign language interpreters in courts amongst others

 

Further, stakeholders were given an opportunity to offer recommendations that should be incorporated in the Bill. Some of the recommendations offered include the following:

– Pre-trial and post-trial detention should be used as a measure of last resort

– Best interests of the child should be a key principle in administering cases of

children in conflict with the law

– Paralegals, probation officers and lawyers employed by Civil Society Organizations

should be allowed to legally represent child offenders

– All government departments should work together and share information during the

entire process

-Parents and guardians should be encouraged to get birth certificates for their children

– Restorative justice is key in child justice systems

– Avoiding the use of handcuffs, taking pictures and finger prints

-Protecting the privacy of the child

– Ensuring a child friendly court environment

– Monitoring of media personnel when it to comes to reporting cases involving

children

– Minimizing the level of interrogation of the child