Senin, 13 September 2010


THE Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations (UN) in 1948 recognises that children need special safeguards and appropriate legal protection. It therefore proclaims that  every child should be given special care and assistance before and after birth, by reason of his/her physical and mental immaturity.

A juvenile an individual under 18 years ( a child), suspected to have committed an offence against the laws of a state is a juvenile offender. They include children who engaged in criminal and other activities which do not conform with societal norms. Juvenile justice is, therefore, the dispensation of justice involving a juvenile. This is in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations (UN) in 1948.

Although such juveniles were crime suspects, they had their rights which needed to be protected and sections of the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), 1989 states that children in conflict with the law have the right to treatment that promotes their sense of dignity and worth and take into account their age and their reintegration into society. Due to this, Ghana enacted the Juvenile Justice Act 653, 2003, to assist authorities to handle juveniles.

Addressing a media training workshop on the juvenile justice administration in the country, organised by Plan Ghana in conjunction with Child's Rights International (CRI) and the Ghana National Coalition on the Right of the Child (GNCRC) and funded by the European Union (EU), in Accra recently, a Public Prosecutor at the Attorney General's Office, Ms Getrude Aikins, was reported to have said that the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), 1989, saw the placing of juveniles in custody as a measure of last resort. However, a statement by the President of Child’s Right International (CRI), a child-related NGO, Mr Bright Appiah, indicated that from 1993 to 2003, a total of 10,488 juveniles were placed in police cells as adults while 377 under the age of 12 were detained in police cells due to the lack of remand homes. This situation he said was due to a breakdown in the implementation of laws that protected children and juvenile offenders.
Juvenile offenders have the right to be questioned before a guardian or a lawyer, the rights to hide ones identity from the media, the rights to have a guardian informed of an arrest and the right to be granted bail on mild offences.

While it is important for authorities to seek the interest of a juvenile on suspected crime before taking decisions since that formed part of his or her rights, parents and family members of juvenile offenders who are committed to serve sentences at Juvenile Correctional Centres are also encouraged to visit and help their children to reform.          

A chart with some inmates of the Juvenile Correctional Centre in Accra, however indicated that this aspect of juvenile justice and reformation,  is not easily achieved since most of them claimed that their parents have neglected them.

 Adu (not real name), a 16-year- old boy from Konongo, who is serving a two-year prison sentence said he stole three metal scrubs from a friend and  was later arrested and confined.
Because of his actions, he could not inform his parents of his arrest and when I further asked if he had been visited by any of his relations since he was imprisoned, he replied in the negative. " I have never been visited by any of my relations. I only get to talk to people when organisations come to visit us".
Another inmate, Erik (not real name) is now 18  years old. He claims to have been imprisoned falsely. He said he was alleged to have raped a girl he fell in love with.
"Because the parents of the girl are rich, they decided to punish me by saying I have raped their daughter," he explained. He also said his parents have not visited him since his incarceration, adding that “My family chose to abandon me here because they do not like me anymore. They did not give me the chance to explain what happened. I have been here for almost two years and I can no longer tell how they look like. They have chosen to abandon me here, so I would do the same".

One inmate, who gave his name as Nii, said his parents were divorced and so his mother was the one taking care of him and this four siblings. She later got sick and had to be admitted at the hospital. “As the eldest child, I had to search for money to look after her. This is how come I got involved in stealing. My luck run out one day and I was arrested, tried and imprisoned. Since then, I haven’t set my eyes on any family member, since they have not come to visit me.”
Based on the information I derived from some of the inmates during the interactions, I concluded that lack of parental care, peer pressure and even broken homes, constituted significant factors contributing to their plights.

Most of them who were not ready to talk to me about why they were in the correctional institution accused their parents for neglecting them. Others said their parents could not adequately cater for them so they had to do all menial jobs to survive, and they became responsible for their upkeep.
It is obvious that the country still had a long way to go with regards to protecting the rights and welfare of children and juvenile offenders, and to help reform them.

There is therefore,  the need for a combined effort by the police, social welfare officers, lawyers and judges, media, parents and policy makers to ensure that the interests of children, especially juvenile offenders were protected in the country.

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