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Child criminals to receive friendly justice according to new guidelines

Dr. Doreen Mulenga, UNICEF Representative in Uganda speaks to media recently. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – The Uganda Police Force and UNICEF—United Nations Children’s Fund—have launched Diversion Guidelines that allow children below 18 years who commit petty offences to be rehabilitated instead of being tried in court.

The new guidelines, that come into force after 18 years, will ensure that children in conflict with the law receive child-friendly justice services and would also promote the rights of children in conflict with the law.

According to Dr. Doreen Mulenga, UNICEF Representative in Uganda, the new guidelines will also ensure that minors who commit petty offences are diverted from the formal justice system through procedures, structures, and programmes that help reconcile them with the aggrieved through non-judicial bodies.

“This is meant to help them avoid the negative effects of formal judicial proceedings,” said Dr Mulenga during the launch at Hotel Africana 22 August.

According to the guidelines, the Uganda Police will facilitate this process and brief the parents or guardians about the offense committed to ensure that the child doesn’t come into conflict with the law again.

For effective diversion measures will prevent minor offences from clogging up the formal justice system, and could also help reduce the number of children who re-offend, as international evidence shows.

“For children who have committed grave offences, Uganda Police will refer their cases to a judge or magistrate who will decide whether to undertake court proceedings or not,” said Dr Mulenga.

The new guidelines reflect the current situation, rules, and principles in line with the Children (Amendment) Act 2016, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its guidelines, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

In Uganda, many children come into contact with the formal justice system or are deprived of liberty when their basic rights are not fully respected and children below the age of 18 years can be arrested and detained for petty offences.

According to the Justice, Law and Order Sector Annual Report 2017/18, the national diversion rate is 76.3 per cent, although the importance of diversion is not fully recognized among all police officers and stakeholders.

“We congratulate the Government of Uganda on this important milestone for child rights. As UNICEF, we continue to be committed to supporting the Justice, Law and Order Sector institutions, including the Uganda Police, to create a justice system that is responsive to children and is child-friendly,” Dr Mulenga said further.

Ms Maureen Atuhaire, Ag. Commissioner of Child and Family Protection Department said the launch is an opportunity to spread the ideas and procedures of diversion widely among stakeholders who are involved in justice for children across the country.

“I will make sure that every police officer in each community understands how to apply diversion to make a true change,” said Ms Atuhaire.

He added that in order to achieve that, everybody should be involved in training on how to use the guidelines rather than just distributing the guidelines and that to ensure that police officer understands the guidelines, all of them will be trained on how to use the guidelines.

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