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Creating safe havens for juvenile offenders

ZAMBIA Correctional Service Commissioner General Percy Chato addressing correctional officers at the Justice Administration for Children workshop in Livingstone recently.

CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Livingstone
THE Bemba idiom ‘Umulandu mume, bawukumpulafye’, translated as ‘An offence is like morning dew, which can inevitably soak you’, aptly highlights why juveniles sometimes come into conflict with the law of the land.
The maxim is a portrayal of how dew that settles on grass can unavoidably and literally make you wet as you traverse in a bush path, especially in the morning, no matter how you may try to avoid it.
Of course, this is not to say one can’t choose another route to the same destination.
The law, which metaphorically is portrayed to be blind, applies to everyone regardless of social standing, religious and political affiliation or indeed age.
What matters is the environment in which it is applied and who applies it to achieve the objective of its application vis-à-vis correctional or reformation in tandem with the reforms being implemented by the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS), formerly Zambia Prisons Service.
For adults who commit criminal or civil offences, correctional measures are now being applied in the facilities countrywide while reformation is applied in the case of erring juveniles.
Children, by and large, are pliable and can successfully reform for integration into society once oriented and exposed to positive influence.
This is what the ZCS is endeavouring to undertake in reformatory institutions on children who come into conflict with the law.
ZCS Commissioner General Percy Chato says there is need for correctional officers to adopt a child-friendly system to effectively improve juvenile justice administration.
Mr Chato said a recent study revealed that law enforcement officers had no training to enable them to effectively deal with children who came into conflict with the law.
The study also revealed that children, when detained, were not being separated from adults and were kept in an environment which put them at high risk of contracting tuberculosis, among other transmittable diseases.
“Child-friendly justice is a very vital aspect of the correctional enterprise and, therefore, as we transform from prisons to correctional services, we cannot leave juvenile justice in the transformation process,” he said.
Mr Chato said this here recently during the Justice Administration for Children workshop for 32 officers comprised of reformatory school staff and regional offender management officers.
He said the workshop was aimed at equipping officers with knowledge and practices in international and domestic instruments in the treatment of children in conflict with the law.
Mr Chato said this should be done by adapting a system that ensures juveniles in detention are not deprived of hygiene and health care services.
“As officers of the ZCS, we have to familiarise ourselves with these pieces of legislation as we execute our duties. This will help us to effectively administer juvenile justice for effective rehabilitation,” he said.
This is in tandem with Article 17 (3) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children.
Mr Chato said the objective of the intensive training programme is to improve the administration of juvenile justice among officers to enable them to administer child justice effectively.
He said the ZCS, as the custodian of children who are in conflict with the law in institutions like Katombora Reformatory School in Kazungula, has an obligation to realise the objectives of institutional treatment of juvenile offenders.
The objectives are as prescribed by the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, also known as the Beijing Rules.
Rule 26 of the Beijing Rules states that: “The objectives of institutional treatment of juveniles placed in institutions is to provide care, protection, education and vocational skills.
This is with a view to assisting juveniles to assume socially constructive and productive roles in society upon leaving a reformatory.
And Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) regional project coordinator Teclah Ponde said the programme will significantly contribute to the enhancement of child justice.
VSO is a global international non-governmental organisation which is supporting ZCS in promoting health in correctional facilities.
Ms Ponde said the programme will also help promote advocacy for the rights of juvenile offenders in Zambian correctional facilities.
“VSO is focusing particularly in the area of promoting health, and in this particular programme, we are focusing on prisons and correctional services in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and Zambia is one of the implementing countries in promoting health,” Ms Ponde said.
She said the partnership with the ZCS will help promote and enhance the rights of juvenile offenders in the country.
The programmes under VSO also focus and lean on the framework within the SADC minimum standards of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and sexually Transmitted Infections.
“So in that regard, we are also particularly keen on adolescent sexual reproductive health and rights. We are grateful that the workshop is contributing towards justice and is also enhancing the work that you are doing as far as advocating the right of juvenile offenders is concerned,” Ms Ponde said.
She urged correctional officers to implement lessons from the training to promote the rights and dignity of inmates, including juveniles in reformatories.
Ms Ponde said the experiences gained in Zambia following the implementation of the training workshop will be used for informing regional programmes in the SADC region.
It should be borne in the minds of correctional officers and other stakeholders that violating the rights of juveniles when they are under institutional treatment is counter-productive.
It also deprives them of the minimum conditions for a dignified life and prevents them from the full and harmonious development of their personality.
Another practical step being undertaken by ZCS to achieve an enhanced juvenile justice system is ensuring that new facilities being constructed have a separate juvenile section.
This is in fulfilment of Section 58 of the Juveniles Act Chapter 53 and Section 60 (2) of the Prisons Act Chapter 97 of the Laws of Zambia which protect children who sometimes inadvertently clash with the ‘commandments’ of the land.

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