May 22, 2013 – May 23, 2013 Lagos/Nigeria, Nigeria
A two day International Conference on “Imprisonment of Children, Pregnant Women and Nursing Mothers as a Matter of Last Resort.
The United Nations (UN Beijing Rules) on the Administration of juvenile justice, Rule 26 and its corresponding sections especially 26.2 states that “Juveniles in institutions shall receive care, protection and all necessary assistance – social, educational, vocational, psychological, medical and physical that they may require because of their age, sex, and personality and in the interest of their wholesome development.” Section 26.1 states that “the objective of training and treatment of juveniles placed in institutions is to provide care, protection, education and vocational skills, with a view to assisting them to assume socially constructive and productive roles in society”
In addition, The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, in 1 states that “every child shall have the right to an education”. Thus sub-section 3,and sub-section a-c of the same article state that “States Parties to the present Charter shall take all appropriate measures with a view to achieving the full realization of this right and shall in particular: (a) provide free and compulsory basic education; (b) encourage the development of secondary education in its different forms and to progressively make it free and accessible to all; (c) make the higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity and ability by every appropriate means”
Sadly, however, Nigeria and many other African nations continue to detain children arbitrarily, provide little or no education and any form of training for juvenile offenders and offer no protection of their basic human rights, thereby exposing them to different forms of abuses, exploitations and diseases which have severe and lasting consequences on them and society. This is so because in many parts of Africa, children in conflict with the law are for the most part dealt with as adults, using deprivation of liberty as the primary sentencing option. One obvious weakness of this system is that the needs and interests of the child as well as the root causes of conflict with the law are often ignored and little or nothing is done to offer care and assistance with reintegration into society.
In addition, most children in Nigeria have no understanding of the justice systems and their rights which makes it unlikely for them to challenge and report abuses committed within the system. More so, many institutions dealing with children offenders are notoriously child-unfriendly and their physical environment are damaging to the child’s mental, health, social and psychological well-being.
Similarly, Rule 22 of the Bangkok Rules affirms that “ punishment by close confinement or disciplinary segregation shall not be applied to pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prison” Also, Rule 57 says that” the provisions of the Toyo Rules shall guide the development and implementation of appropriate responses to women offenders. Gender-specific option for diversionary measures and pre-trial and sentencing alternatives shall be developed with Member States’ legal systems, taking account of the history of victimization of many women offenders and their caretaking responsibilities”. While Rule 60 sums it up that “appropriate resources shall be made available to devise suitable alternatives for women offenders in order to combine non-custodial measures with interventions to address the most common problems leading to women’s contact with the criminal justice system. These may include therapeutic courses and counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse; suitable treatment for those with mental disability; and educational and training programmes to improve employment prospects. Such programmes shall take account of the need to provide care for children and women-only services”.
However, the number of women, pregnant women and nursing mothers in prison continues to grow, resulting in the alarming number of children living in prisons with a parent on the continent. In Nigeria, for example, the United States Human Rights Reports in 2010, indicated that there were more than 300 of these children, most of whom were born in prison and continued to live there.
To respond to these concerns and to help African States develop their justice systems to the needs of children in line with the demands of international standards, Defence for Child International (DCI) and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) organized the Global Conference on Child Justice in Africa in Kampala in November, 2011. CURE-Nigeria was represented by its Country Director, Mr. Sylvester T. Uhaa, who spoke on “Children with their Mothers in Prison: A grave threat to national security, a slap at the efforts towards the attainment of the MDGs in Africa and a violation of their rights”
The outputs from the Kampala Conference included Guidelines on Action for Children in the Justice System in Africa as well as a report on Achieving Children Friendly Justice in Africa (which is yet to be published). To continue with the deliberations of the Kampala Conference and to facilitate the development of guidelines for child-sensitive justice in Nigeria, a two day International conference has been planned. The Nigerian Guidelines will be modeled after the Guidelines from the Kampala Conference, which will be contextualized to Nigeria. A follow-up programme to the Kampala Conference therefore needs to be developed so as to ensure the endorsement of the Guidelines adopted at the conference by Nigeria once the Guidelines have been adopted by the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and approved by the African Union. In that regard, popularization of the Guidelines and also the study on children in the justice system needs to start now as the treatment of children in the justice system in Nigeria is in need of reform.
Consequently, the conference in Nigeria will bring together key stakeholders such as the media, the legislature, foreign missions, the judiciary, the Federal and State Ministries of Justice, the Federal Ministry of Interior, the Judiciary, the Federal Ministries of Education, Women and Social Development and Health, UNICEF, WHO, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the UN Special Rappatour on Children, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Prison Service, NGO’s and Civil Societies, the National Human Rights Commission, and experts to exchange ideas, experiences, information and knowledge on best practices as well as develop national guidelines on dealing with children and women in conflict with the law and children living in prisons with a parent, as well as children of incarcerated parents in line with international standards.
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