Keeping children in detention centers without proper rehabilitation services could seriously jeopardise their wellbeing and mental growth, Unicef warns today, as the world marks Day of the African Child. Children in contact with the law must be protected from any type of punishment and provided all the rehabilitation support to reintegrate back into society.
The Day of the African Child should serve as a point of reflection on the state of child rights on the continent. This year is particularly important as it marks the 30th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity in 1990 and entered into force in 1999. Like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Charter is a comprehensive instrument that sets out rights and defines universal principles and norms for the status of children.
The Gambia Government has made commendable gains in protecting the rights of children in the country through the enactment of laws, including the Children’s Act, the establishment of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, and the setting up of children’s courts in Kanifing, Brikama, Mansakonko and Basse. Yet, children in contact with the law have limited access to legal aid, no alternative to detention, and no diversion practice to avoid jail time. More children remain vulnerable to harm due to the challenges of socioeconomic and human development, as evidenced by data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2018 (MICS2018).
§ 24.7% of children are involved in heavy child labor, exposing them to physical danger and limiting their chances to education;
§ 89.2% of children between 1 to 14 years old have experienced violent discipline at school or in their house.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed even more weaknesses, especially in the areas of psychosocial support for children in detention centers and the management of their cases.
Unicef is encouraged by the decision of the President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, to grant amnesty to two children who were held at the Juvenile Wing of the Jeshwang Prison as part of his general amnesty in the month of Ramadan. The release of these children, especially during the Covid-19 Pandemic is vital in keeping them safe from the virus.
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Crucially, the Day of the African Child 2020 focuses on “Access to Child-friendly Justice in Africa.”
The Gambia has ten years to achieve the SDGs. Ten years to end extreme poverty, to achieve quality education, to reduce inequality, and to empower children and women. Ten years to provide access to justice for all, especially the most vulnerable in society: our children.
For children to benefit from a child-friendly justice system, Unicef is calling for the implementation of the following actions.
§ The justice system to strongly enforce all laws that protect children in The Gambia, including from violence, abuse, discrimination, FGM/C, child marriage, and child labour.
§ The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare in collaboration with the Judiciary to ensure that every child, everywhere in The Gambia has access to child-friendly justice by expanding the children’s court to cover the entire country.
§ The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare to coordinate within the Government of the Gambia the full implementation of the Children’s Act to provide children with alternatives to detention and diversion such as community rehabilitation, community service, and counseling.
§ The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare to coordinate all efforts, including at community level, to protect children, anywhere in the country, from violence, harm, and abuse.
§ The government, civil society, and all caregivers to empower children, including members of the Children’s National Assembly of The Gambia, to participate in the national discourse, and have their concerns listened to and addressed by the concerned decision makers.