“Calls for action to improve access to justice for children in Africa”
The Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children in Africa — organized by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and the Defense for Children International (DCI) — is expected to hold a two-day conference scheduled for May 8-10 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Conference is aimed at calling for action to improve access to justice for children in Africa.
The conference will discuss and explore ways to ensure that children in Africa – especially the most vulnerable – get access to justice and are treated fairly and decently by the justice system. A new report from ACPF — to be launched at the conference — reveals many African countries lack specialized child justice systems.
“It is concerning that in 2018 children in Africa are still being let down by our justice systems,” said Dr. Assefa Bequele, ACPF’s Executive Director. “All too often across Africa, children in need of protection or seeking to redeem their rights face immense challenges, not only in accessing justice systems, but also in getting effective remedies through these systems.”
Children’s rights campaigners and defenders estimate that thousands of children are held in prisons across the continent at any one time, with many more deprived of their liberty in detention centers, rehabilitation units or other such institutions.
According to the report, girls, children with disabilities, children living on the streets and trafficked children are some of the most vulnerable groups of children within the justice system. They suffer discrimination and are often denied access to justice.
“The end result is that children fall back on systems that are closer, familiar and more accessible to them, which do not always deliver justice in their best interests,” said Dr Nkatha Murungi, the Head of ACPF’s Children and the Law Program .
“The widespread use of informal (traditional, religious and administrative) justice systems creates significant challenges in ensuring the protection of the best interests of children and their access to justice.” Dr Murungi called on African governments to ensure that these informal justice systems respect and apply the same international standards of children’s rights as the formal justice systems.
Without access to justice, it is difficult for children to enjoy their rights. “Despite the progress recorded in recent years, we still have some way to go,” said Alex Kamarotos, DCI’s Executive Director. “We need urgent action to protect children, especially addressing basic issues such as bringing an end to the detention of children.
Detention is especially damaging for children’s physical and mental health and should be applied only as a last resort, and for the shortest possible time. Alternatives to the deprivation of liberty do exist and can be implemented, if there is political will.”
Addressing African governments, Dr Assefa said “We cannot wait for tomorrow. We have to urgently implement existing laws and policies. We must ensure that the needs of vulnerable groups of children in access to justice are addressed and that traditional and religious systems deliver justice that protects all children. We have to act now. The future of our continent is dependent on the full realization of the rights and well-being of our children today.”
The Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children is jointly organized by ACPF and DCI and is being held at the United National Conference Centre (UNCC) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 8-10 May 2018.