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Justice for Children: Documenting Institutional Workflows

 

Justice for Children in Uganda
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 57% under 18 years old and 78% under the age of 30. Overall, children and youth in Uganda are at a distinct disadvantage in virtually all aspects of life – including education, nutrition, health and safety. 88% of children in Uganda enter the first year of primary school with no formal early learning experience, and while Universal Primary Education has brought a surge in enrollment, the quality of basic education in the country remains poor, learning outcomes are weak, and basic education programs lack relevance to the everyday realities that children face. Neonatal and Child mortality rates (29 per 1000 live births for newborns; 76 per 1000 for infants and 137 per 1000 for under-fives in 2011) remain high in Uganda and the country’s health indicators are also among the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa. Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) towards girls in Uganda is still widespread. 60% of women have experienced violence and one in four women report that their first sexual intercourse was forced against their will.



Accessing justice is also a significant challenge for children and young people in Uganda. Despite important progress in recent years, in many cases prevention, protection, rehabilitation and reintegration are not sufficiently taken into consideration for children who come into contact with the law in Uganda. The processes of interacting with the justice system can be immensely frightening and damaging for a child and both child victims and witnesses, as well as those accused, have a right to a system that protects their best interests. For this reason a number of international rules and guidelines exist that explicitly require certain standards to ensure that court systems are child-friendly. Unfortunately, although Uganda has ratified the major international instruments regarding children in contact with the law and translated these into national legislation through various Acts and Codes, the implementation of these remains limited.

For children in conflict with the law, one of the most significant challenges is the punitive, rather than rehabilitative, attitude of the justice system, and Ugandan culture more generally. While international standards, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), clearly dictate that “detention is a measure of last resort” that should be applied “for the shortest appropriate period of time”, children in conflict with the law in Uganda are regularly detained for extended periods of time both awaiting trial and following sentencing. Children are detained with adults at police stations and as a result of real challenges with age verification, they at times end up in adult prisons.

Although diversion has a legal foundation in the Children’s Act and the Police Act, has been widely discussed in Civil Society and with various key system actors and while JLOS institutions are in favor of increasing diversion, for a number of reasons, it remains largely unpracticed. Children in conflict with the law are regularly remanded as they wait for trial, even for petty crimes. As a result, the five remand homes that serve the entire country are frequently over-crowded, which stretches their already very limited resources, and children regularly miss their court hearings as a result of resource constraints, further extending their time in detention. In remand, children are deprived of their education, having exposure to only very limited teaching which is mostly non- academic and usually provided by NGOs or religious charities; there is only limited monitoring of the remand homes and their ability to meet the other rights and needs of children. Accountability of the both CSO and government interventions needs to be strengthened as many unsustainable, one-off linear interventions undermine an already weakened institutional system resulting in worsening conditions for children.

Sentencing does not take into consideration the rights of children; it is often very severe with detention at the National Rehabilitation Centre Kampiringisa the norm rather than the “last resort”. Kampiringisa also struggles with extremely limited resources and faces a number of challenges as a result of it being frequently used as temporary alternative care for street children of all ages picked up in Kampala. A few NGOs provide education, healthcare and some limited rehabilitation to children there, but these services are not sustainable, as they are dependent on external funding.

To aggravate the situation described above, there are frequently very long delays in hearing cases, despite the existence of national guidelines on maximum times. High Court Sessions are very expensive, partially because of the high logistical costs, such as transporting witnesses and accused, but more significantly because of the Daily Service Allowances that have to be paid to all of the system actors involved. As a result, High Court Sessions happen irregularly only when funds are available and there are enormous backlogs in the system. And because these courts do not prioritize children’s cases, children, both victims and accused, can wait years for cases to be tried. By the time a session has been organized it is not uncommon to find that witnesses are no longer available and/or that families have settled cases outside of court. During this time, victims receive no follow up or protection of any kind from either police or Protection and Social Welfare. Support to children generally by Probation and Social Welfare is extremely limited. Effective case management is essentially non-existent; very few victims receive adequate counseling and rehabilitation and reintegration of children is superficial at best. Given the alarmingly high rates of child sexual abuse in Uganda, it is particularly

In recognition of these challenges, the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) has since 2011 been implementing the Justice for Children (J4C) Program with support from UNICEF. The J4C Program is a nationwide systematic innovation aimed at highlighting priorities for children in the Justice sector. Whether children come in contact with the law as victims, witnesses, offenders or complainants, the J4C Program works to ensure that they are met with a child-friendly system that:
¥    Understands and respects their rights, needs and concerns
¥    Addresses their unique vulnerability
¥    Protects their best interests in harmony with national, regional and international legislature, norms and standards.

In its three years of existence, the J4C program has had a number of notable successes in raising the profile of child related cases within the system and among JLOS institutions, particularly working with the District Chain Linked Committees (DCCs) which are a decentralised coordination mechanism bringing together JLOS actors at district level. The catalytic role of J4C coordinators - placed at the court to coordinate both with the District Chain Linked Committee (the DCC) and also to follow up the status of child related cases with police, probation, remand and court - has activated the institutions in realizing the critical need for coordination among the key JLOS actors to make a lasting impact for children.

 

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Justice for Children Mapping: Integrated Workflow Process

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