Story: Zainabu Issah
THE report of a Juvenile Justice Project launched by three child rights organisations have established that children in conflict with the law mostly come from broken homes or environments where both parents are not living together.
The project was launched by Plan Ghana International, in partnership with Child Right International (CRI) and Grenada National Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC), with funding from the European Union, as a step to prevent and combat all forms of violence against children or youth in Justice Institutions or those who are in conflict with the law.
Presenting a summary of the current situation of juvenile justice in Ghana, Madam Susan Sabaa from the Child Research and Resource Centre disclosed that between July 2007 and June 2008, there were 647 juvenile cases pending, with 551 newly filed cases and 544 cases completed.
She said between the period of 2008, 2009 and January to June, 2010, juvenile offenders spent between one to eight weeks in custody at the various police stations and nearly 24 months in remanded homes before trial and pointed out that admissions to juvenile centres saw marginal increase from 51 in 2008 to 58 in 2009 and the discharged cases decreased from 289 in 2008 to 251 in 2009.
Inmates covered in the survey were made up of 92 per cent males and 8 per cent females, with the age distribution of the males ranging from 16 to 18 years and that of the females ranging from 12 to 15 years.
The research further stated that the educational status of inmates at the time of their arrest was mainly from primary institutions (80.3 per cent) whereas 11.5 per cent have never been in school, with 4.9 per cent having junior high school (JHS) background, and 3.3 per cent with senior high school background. However, 54.4 per cent of the children indicated they could read and write in English while 45.6 per cent could neither read nor write in English.
According to the report, 73.4 per cent of the child respondents indicated that none of their parents, relations, guardian, social worker, or lawyer was present when their statements were being taken by the police.
The study established that the major difficulty in Accra was that most of the young offenders were homeless and that made it very difficult to trace their parents as they were also unwilling to disclose their real identity and where their families come from for fear of stigmatisation.
The research also spelt out the experiences that the juvenile offenders went through during their detention period in the police cells such as being asked to sleep in the toilet by the police or adult inmates, being beaten, insulted and asked to lie down on the floor during the night.
They were also sometimes beaten by the police, which resulted in abrasions on the children, and food brought to them were eaten by the adult inmates. Some of them are also handcuffed overnight in police cells for days or asked to sit down and not lie down in the night and at other times too, they were asked to pay cell fees.
Criminal activities which lead children to the juvenile centres constitute 42 per cent stealing, 24 per cent defilement, 5 per cent robbery, 8 per cent assault, 10 per cent rape, 3 per cent drugs, 5 per cent unlawful entry and 3 per cent prostitution.
Though a larger proportion said they could express themselves freely, 20.3 per cent said they felt intimidated and therefore could not speak freely. Some 23.4 per cent indicated that some statements made in courts were attributed to them, which they never made. Also 21.9 per cent were able to raise objections to such statements attributed to them and which they disagreed with. Others (64.1 per cent) said they understood the sentencing read in courts to them and 39.1 per cent indicated they had no idea of the number of years of sentence handed to them in courts.
Analysing the status of cases, the survey further revealed that 52 per cent of juvenile respondents were on remand while 47.9 per cent were sentenced to various years in the correctional centres and also periodic medical attention was given to the inmates but only about 40.6 per cent received the service.
The respondents also complained bitterly about their sleeping conditions and said their bodies itched because there are no bed sheets and the cells were small. While some slept on the bare floor, others slept on cardboards spread on the floor without mattresses, bed sheets and mosquito nets.
Almost all the respondents, constituting 99 per cent, said they did not enjoy the food served in the remand home and indicated that they would prefer philanthropists to bring them cooked food and not uncooked food items because the food items usually did not get to them.
The Government provides 60 pesewas a day per inmate for feeding three times a day. Growing adolescent boys need enough nutritious food for their development and inadequate food intake affects their growth physically, emotionally and mentally.
The report said the convenience and freedoms of the juvenile offenders within the centres were severely compromised due to poor infrastructure and lack of logistics. Boys are made to eat dinner at 4:00 p.m. because wardens fear some will abscond under the cover of darkness.
The most common punishment in the homes is being beaten by officers and wardens. Other forms of punishment range from being isolated from all the other inmates and locked up in a dark cell that smells badly and is full of mosquitoes, to weeding and painful physical exercise.
On the issue of visit, some of them indicated that since they were sentenced, they had never been visited. Some said they had never been in touch with their families and others had not heard from their family members since they were placed in the correctional institutions.
The report also established that was no structured system for the expression of views or complaints and between four to 30 inmates were discharged yearly with no special preparation made for them. Reintegration and after care programme are not pursued due to lack of logistics and funds.
Madam Susan Sabaa in her recommendations called for more monitoring at the juvenile centres, which are crowded, to see to it that adult inmates did not bully the younger ones.
She also called for an increase in the budget by the government to be directed to the reconstruction of juvenile centres in order to have more space for the inmates.
She, however ,called on police offers and wardens in the centres to do well in training and reforming the inmates rather than resorting to beating and other forms of punishment which rather make them more vulnerable to other crimes when they are released from the homes.
“They have come to be reformed in the homes, so if you resort to violence, they would get use to it and when they come out, they would do worse things than what brought them to the home,” she said
She also revealed that even though the children were there to be corrected, some ex-inmates from the centres revealed that other forms of illegal activities such as smoking of marijuana were done in the institutions because they were allegedly sold to them in the correction centres.
The Assistant Director of the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), Ms Victoria K Natsu, called for the implementation of the child right protection laws in the correctional institutions so that when they were arrested, the focus would be on the correction and reformation of the children.
She said currently there was only one psychologist at the 37 military Hospital in charge of handling the psychological trauma of the children after their encounter in the correctional institutions, saying that was not good enough.
The Country Director of Plan Ghana International, Mr Prem Shukla announced the establishment of a Child Help Line System through a collaborative effort with the National Communications Authority for children across the country to report all forms of violence and abuse to the appropriate authorities.
He said the system would come out with a toll free number which will be made known to the public and to all children for them to call for help in the event of any form of violence or abuse.
He, however, called on the media to help in raising the awareness of child abuse and violence for the public to report all forms of violence and abuse affecting children across the country.