Kenya embarks on addressing challenges in juvenile justice system  

Chief Justice David Maraga opens children court in Nakuru. Picture: Courtesy
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Cases of unrest in schools where students who are suspected to be part of schemes to burn schools appeared before juvenile courts across the country.

These increased the number of juvenile cases that have ever hit the courts in Kenya’s history. However, questions on how effective and efficient the juvenile justice systems are still hangs in balance.

The big question here remains: Are these children subjected to fair juvenile justice systems? According to child rights activists in Kenya, the juvenile system has made strides but still not enough has been done to see children who have committed crimes access timely justice within a conducive environment while behind bars.

With the adoption of the UN Convention on Children’s Rights (UNCRC) in 1989, progress that has been made both locally and internationally has been inconsistent. Kenya has not been left out either as it is still struggling with many issues around child protection albeit with little progress.

During the launch of  Guidelines on Improving the Kenya Juvenile Justice System, Justice Martha Koome, a Judge Court of Appeal and Chairperson of the National Council on the Administration of Justice special Task Force on Children’s Matters noted with concern how cases involving children had weak investigations leading to many of them collapsing.

Said Koome: “The Children’s Act has not been aligned to the Constitution and implementation of the Act making it very difficult to handle matters on children, especially those that are crime-relate”

She noted that the statutory institutes that are mandated to help children are tucked up and no one knows where they are leading to only a few being aware of their existence.

“We do not know where our children are, we need a national data survey centre to help us account for every child. This is a critical area that needs urgent intervention because with numbers we can plan better,” Koome reiterated.

The juvenile justice system in Kenya is undergoing a transformation where stakeholders and partners have come on board to help improve it.

Truphosa Ngoli, a mother of 13 is a beneficiary to the initiative. She narrates of how her life was miserable when her husband died leading to her children fending for themselves. “I had been widowed and no one to come to my rescue. I had to get out and look for casual jobs leaving my young children behind. Things turned out bad when my son Benson committed crimes repeatedly and he had to face the juvenile courts,” explained Ngoli. “He stayed in jail for five years and I am grateful to the Child Welfare Society who took their time to visit our home and helped me welcome Benson once he finished his sentence.”

Said Ngoli: “I recall we had several meetings where we sat down and discussed at length about Benson’s welfare. They made me realise more about the responsibility I had of taking care of Benson despite his past.”

Benson is now reformed and back to school. “I was helped to set up a small business which I am running up to date,” she explained.

Ngoli is one among many parents in Kenya today who find themselves in situations where their children who have committed crimes have nowhere to turn to and end up living frustrated and stigmatised lives.

Lynette Okwara, Senior Assistant Director at Child Welfare Society and a psychologist noted that they are running a 30-month project to help stop violence against children in juvenile custody.

”Families of child offenders have been given support to start businesses. We realised that for a child to be involved in crime it is a reflection of what is going on within the family,” Okwara explained.

Lucy Gitari, Chief Magistrate Milimani Children’s Court and chair of Court Users Committee (CUC) noted with concern the challenges the Children Courts go through. “One big challenge we have is that the court is not friendly to children. We have no transport for these children when they come from remand. Most times they are mixed with adult offenders and this is tricky because you find in some instances hard core criminal suspect are taken back to remand and these children are left in our hands as we beg well-wishers to offer transport,” explained Gitari. She added: “We also don’t have an independent children’s court which is important as it will give children a conducive environment where their cases will be handled well.”

Gitari also noted that they need stenographers to hasten proceedings and help quicken court processes for children. She lamented lack of adequate data on the over 2,000 files of children who need care and protection.

Koome challenged: “The welfare of a child can be secured by ensuring the child is provided with the basic needs such as shelter, education, health and other needs for the child’s wellbeing.”

She posed: “Why are our children in the streets? Who is failing in their duties, the family or the social protection?”

Despite these challenges the Court Users’ Committee helps investigate some of the issues around juvenile justice system. They have had magistrates trained and held service week activities to sensitize citizens on juvenile justice system issues.

Several organisations and departments that work on  child justice have received funding from the European Union for projects that will see the juvenile justice system improved.

Children’s Rights are a protected under the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 recognises and makes provisions that enshrine the fundamental rights of children; The Children Act 2001 is supposed to give effect to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and African Charter Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).

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