Rights groups applaud Child Justice Bill

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BY CATHERINE MUCHIRI
GOVERNMENT yesterday got rare praise for tabling the Child Justice Bill, which seeks to establish a separate juvenile justice system.

Government gazetted the Child Justice Bill and Children’s Amendment Bill in December, paving way for public hearings.

A public hearing on the Bill held in Harare yesterday by the Portfolio Committee on Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs attracted a huge turnout, with child rights’ groups describing it as key to ensuring child rights are protected.

“The current existing juvenile system is primitive, retrogressive and also harsh and it will affect children’s case in the context of restoration and rehabilitation. The Bill is a plus as it promotes justice, but Part 11, Clause 10 says the maximum imprisonment of a child should be 15,” Young Persons Advocacy and Research Network director, James Dominic said.

Hopley Can Change Trust director Osman Ngwenya said: “How will the court be able to determine the correct age of a child in case there is a lack of birth records as medical examinations can be manipulated to favour a particular team? Further custody before hearings for the children should be made child-friendly.”

SAYWHAT programmes officer Jairos Mutore said: “The Bill is a progressive document and I would like to applaud the initiative. I, however, think that, although the Bill is progressive, as it seeks to promote children’s rights, there are a few gaps in terms of the post-trial support for children who undergo the justice system.

“Effective reintegration can include a well-thought-out educational package that will make sure that children are not only reintegrated to their families, but they are reintegrated to strategic development institutions like schools and vocational training centres.”

The Bill aims to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 and take into account specific vulnerabilities of children in conflict with the law, including the needs of children with disabilities.

It will also provide for separate courts to deal with children and foster a restorative as opposed to a punitive justice system for children.

Miracle Mission Trust Children Department’s Courtney Rundofa said: “The Bill is good as it gives power to the social workers as they are child protection officers. There should be an easier version that is child-friendly so that children can be taught about it and know their rights in terms of this Bill.”

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