Violence against children in Kenya is on the rise. Gauging Kenya’s scorecard on juvenile justice, Article 48 of the Constitution that provides for access to justice remains on the periphery. This is largely attributed to a myriad of factors in the juvenile justice system that expose children to abuse.
I will narrow down my thoughts to the “unwanted child”; the forgotten child caught up in the juvenile justice system. I call this child “unwanted” because if the system was to be measured against its attainment in promoting child friendly legal and justice mechanism, including the implementation of our national policies and laws on children, the gains far outweigh the benefits.
Every child has a right to grow up free from violence and exploitation. Every child in Kenya’s juvenile justice system is a manifestation of a failed family unit, dysfunctional communities and a lethargic justice system.
The power of community action in playing its rightful role of bringing up children in a crime-free and protected environment cannot be gainsaid. The role of traditional justice mechanisms and the preservation of community safeguards have continued to be eroded. The home environment is no longer safe and child friendly. Communities must selfishly guard children. Similarly, children need guidance in their formative years. Good values will act as a deterrence in drawing them to crime.
For those in the juvenile justice system, measures to ensure accelerated handling of their cases and their return to normal life in the least time possible is provided in our laws. Lethargy by juvenile justice agencies has negative effects on the processing of cases. Such inaction defeats the principle of the best interest of the child. All state officers are mandated by law to uphold at all times the promotion and protection of all children, while giving them a fair chance at survival and development. The agencies must be seen in the form of a wheel where all are equal players working in coherence and complementarity.
Justice agencies must peer-review one another to ensure that despite their respective roles in handling, processing and in the final outcomes, the child comes first.
Innovative approaches such as the Children Justice Service Week aimed at expediting the determination of cases should be supported by all justice agencies. The recently held Children Service Week at the Bungoma and Kitale law courts shows that the juvenile justice system remains unprepared and reactive to the failings of the society. Cases involving child victims, children in need of protection and care and children in conflict with the law were heavily hinged on sexual offences.
Defilement remains the biggest nightmare child protection advocates face on a daily basis. Despite targeted responses on child protection, children have become more susceptible, they suffer sexual molestation and unfathomable violations by rogue members of society, many of whom are persons known to them.
On the other hand, the justice system is held at ransom by failings attributable to themselves. When witnesses fail to respect summons, when justice agencies are uncoordinated, when the failings of one justice agency frustrate the fair administration of justice, when child victims are unable to seek services crucial in the prosecution of cases, when witnesses lack protection, when children are detained beyond set limits, the results are poor conviction rates and bad precedence setting.
Justice agencies must use their voices to name and shame counties that have high violations of children’s rights. County governments must be brought to account on the roles they have played in ensuring that children in difficult and vulnerable circumstances are protected and given equal opportunities in development. Unfortunately, many will interpret my view as the right to education, health, registration of births etc. The specifics of what should be done for children in the justice system are what is at stake here.
Rehabilitative approaches should be multi-faceted. Where justice agencies attribute the lack of family guidance and values as lead causes to crime, measures should be taken to ensure that a child undergoing rehabilitation is protected from going back to the very same environment that made him or her susceptible to crime and violations in the first place.
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