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Regional News of Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Source: GNA

Gaps in Juvenile Justice to be addressed

Ghana would soon finalise work on two new policies that would seek to address the gaps in the current laws on juvenile justice and family welfare.

This is aim at ensuring and safeguarding the rights of children and young people.

The two policies: Justice for Children Policy and the Child and Family Welfare Policy are currently being drafted and are expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

Mrs Comfort Asare, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Welfare, made this known, when she launched a new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Short Messaging System (SMS) platform, developed by Youth Bridge Foundation under their project: “Youth Awareness Improves Justice,”.

It is to provide children, young people and the public with access to information on juvenile justice and child rights and responsibilities.

She added that the department is also planning a juvenile justice week, which would be launched in a month and would help create more awareness on the juvenile justice system and the rights of children when they come into conflict with the law.

She explained that children are by law people who are under 18 years of age, while the age for criminal responsibility is 12 years and above.

“Thus when a child above the age 12 commits an offense, he or she would be held responsible for that action. Offenses usually committed by children include stealing, causing harm, unlawful entry, drug possession and drug use, among others,” she said.

However, children have rights that have to be respected when they come into conflict with the law. These rights should be respected throughout the juvenile system, from arrest to sentencing.

She said these rights include the right to privacy during arrest of children, the right to be kept in a different cell from adults, and the right to have a parent, guardian, lawyer or other adults representing the interest of the child present during interviews after arrest.

She noted that most children and even their parents are ignorant of these rights and laws that guarantee the importance of YBF’s initiative.

Mrs Asare stated that constraints in the juvenile justice system, such as lack of facilities at police stations for keeping juveniles, lack of adequate correctional facilities, lack of knowledge on child rights, and the absence of laws to punish violation of child rights, often lead to abuse, and conflict with the law.

She said the new policy on justice for children would seek to address some of these issues.

She called on the public, who are passionate about the rights of children to channel their support into helping to correct them after they have been arrested.

She urged communities and families to help in the rehabilitation and reintegration of children who were in conflict with the law into society by accepting them and not stigmatising them as this may lead them back to a life of crime.

Mr Douglas Quartey, Programmes Manager of YBF, said the project was funded by STAR Ghana, a multi-donor pooled organisation.

Ghana, in line with international treaty requirements had developed legal and policy documents aimed at ensuring the welfare and development of children and young people, such as the Children’s Act 560 and the Juvenile Justice Act 653.

However, studies such as the commonwealth human rights initiative report 2011 showed that several rights including the right to be seen as innocent until proven guilty, to be notified of charges, to remain silent, to counsel, to the presence of parent or guardian, among others are violated in the juvenile justice system in Ghana.

The project, therefore, was geared towards expanding the scope of legal education for young people, using youth friendly and inclusive measures such as translation of laws and procedures into local languages, which can be easily accessed on mobile phones using IVR or SMS.

A baseline study conducted by the YBF revealed that at the stage of detention at police stations, the primary concern for the police is to extract confessions without regard to the age of the child.

These confessions are then used as the basis for convictions in court. Also, children in deprived areas who have no birth certificates and little or no knowledge of the child and juvenile justice Acts fall victim to several police violations of their rights.

They are also sometimes treated as adults since they may not be able to pay for their ages to be verified in the hospital.

Moreover, accused juveniles are usually sent to remand homes without investigations or consideration for other solutions, which is contrary to sections 10.2 and 13 of the Children’s Act that makes institutionalisation of minors before trial a last resort.

These findings therefore prompted the foundation to partner Smart Edge, to develop the platform in a bid to address the issues.