Today, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs in collaboration with the Justice Sector Coordinating Office and UNICEF launched the Child Justice Strategy for Sierra Leone, covering the period from 2014 to 2018.
The number of children accused of breaking the law in Sierra Leone has increased in recent years. Not only do children often have to share prison cells with adults; in many cases they have to wait for months before their cases are finally dealt with.
Children who have been victims of violence, abuse and exploitation are highly vulnerable and in need of special protection and support. However, the justice system is intended for adults, and the process can traumatize children. Two thirds of all child victims who come to the police are there as a result of sexual violence and 96 per cent of them are girls.
The Child Justice Strategy is designed for the benefit of all children in contact with justice authorities to ensure that they are better served and protected. It recognizes the challenges of children in conflict with the law, as well as child victims and witnesses of crimes. The strategy provides a clear way forward to address a range of issues affecting children in contact with the law including: preventing delinquency and abuse; improving the responsiveness of the formal justice system to the needs of children; diverting children accused of minor infractions from the formal court setting; reintegrating and rehabilitating children in conflict with the law and enacting legal reforms. It also encourages working together with traditional justice mechanisms and the establishment of child sensitive courts and police procedures.
“Children in conflict and contact with the law should be treated as children and not as adults”, said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “This strategy marks a new chapter to better protect children who are in conflict with the law or are victims of crimes”.
The Child Justice Strategy was developed through a broad based participatory process involving key stakeholders at national and sub-national levels. The technical working group, which comprises the Judiciary, the Sierra Leone Police, Defence for Children International, Timap for Justice, Prison Watch, the Justice Sector Coordinating Office, the Ministry of Social Welfare and UNICEF, took the lead to develop the strategy. It was adopted by the Justice Sector Leadership Group chaired by the Vice President, Alhaji Chief Sam Sumana.
“We are optimistic that the Child Justice Strategy will lay the foundation for ensuring that children in contact and conflict with the law have access to both formal and informal justice systems”, expressed Honourable Alhaji Moijue Kaikai, Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs.