Justice for East Africa's children

By CBA/ABC National Summer 2017

 

When 15-year-old Edith was charged with robbery for allegedly stealing a cellphone, there were some unexpected consequences.

Her mother lost her job at a food stall in the Nairobi slums because she had to accompany her daughter to court. A widow with five children and no income, she couldn’t pay the cash bond to secure Edith’s release, so the teen was sent to the Nairobi Children’s Remand Home.

But Edith (not her real name) was able to get some help from the Kenya National Working Group, which offers legal advice and psychosocial support for children and youth in contact with the law. A pro bono lawyer got her bail reduced to a free bond so she was able to go home. Now she receives counselling and guidance while she waits to be able to afford to go to school. She dreams of being a teacher.

The KNWG legal aid program is just one of the initiatives developed through the Supporting Access to Justice for Children and Youth in East Africa (SAJCEA) project which wrapped up in January. CBA International Initiatives, with financial support of Global Affairs Canada, worked with partner law societies in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda on a variety of access to justice initiatives designed to help young people.

Children and youth, who represent almost half of the population of the three East African nations, face enormous challenges ranging from sexual assault and violence to child labour and trafficking. But the justice systems have failed to protect their rights and meet their specialized needs, according to the project’s final report.

Despite steps taken by government to increase legal protections for children’s rights, there’s a lack of legal services for children and youth and court procedures are expensive and inefficient. The project was designed to increase access to courts or local dispute resolution venues while making people more aware of the importance and substance of children’s rights.

Kenya

  • 1,122 children received free legal services and psychosocial support
  • 1,344 students educated through drama and music about their rights and how to get legal help
  • Duty counsel for children program launched at Children’s Court three days a week
  • Kenya Probation Service assisted in developing pre-sentencing guidelines and risk assessment tools for child offenders

Tanzania

  • 29 lawyers registered to provide pro bono services and trained on law of the child, effective skills in child representation and forensic child interviewing
  • 18 paralegals trained to handle children’s cases
  • Social welfare officers, prosecutors and other stakeholders trained on diversion and restorative justice

Uganda

  • 40 lawyers registered to provide pro bono services and handled 300 cases
  • 197 volunteer paralegals in remote areas trained on child rights. They handled 135 cases in one six-month period
  • Radio talk shows, public service announcements used to raise awareness on child rights
  • 5,893 children reached through school and community programs to raise awareness about child abuse, domestic violence, child neglect and rights of children

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