MALAWI: CRIDOC warns against abuse of minors in prisons and police cells

Summary: The Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC) has warned prison authorities and other relevant stakeholders of a looming national catastrophe, abuse of minors offenders arrested and kept in police cells and prisons.

CRIDOC executive director George Kayange says wide range of heinous abuses and exploitation of incarcerated minor offenders is bound to take place if the judiciary strike continues unabated and the relevant authorities do not take decisive measures to prevent and mitigate the dreadful situation. Kayange says according to the report in The Daily Times of 13th February 2012 entitled “Dire times in police cells: Suspects being transferred to prison,” which reported that numbers of suspects are swelling in police custody on a daily basis and the rising figures are putting pressure on resources in police stations. According to the story, in some cases, suspects are being transferred to outlying police substations and units and even to prisons to reduce congestion in the holding cells and give suspects a fresher breath of life apparently due to the ongoing judiciary strike, he says.

But, according to the paper, says the child rights leader, the effort is as good as fruitless as police are making arrests every day in keeping with their job to stamp out crime, while the National Police Spokesperson, Davie Chingwalu, confirmed to the paper that police stations are being forced to send suspects to prison so they can have space and be afforded the chance of food and bathing. CRIDOC says it is also saddened by another Zodiak Radio Station (ZBS) report, today 16th February 2012, on the congestion in the prisons, which is now leading to a situation where, for example, prisoners suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) are being mixed with those that are not sick, posing a health menace in the prisons. “It is for this reason that we would like appeal to the relevant authorities to ensure that the children are spared from this unfortunate situation,” he says adding, “Critically looking at the unfolding events, we note that there is increasing likelihood that minor offenders might find themselves in a dire situation where they are being mixed with adult offenders, thereby exposing these children to all sorts of abuses and exploitation ranging from health-related rights to sexual abuse (sodomy). “Our fear for the children is very much based on past experiences regarding juvenile justice system and treatment of children in police cells and prisons in Malawi,” Kayange points out.

Past survey findings have revealed a number of areas which require serious redressing as regards juvenile justice in Malawi such as issues of overcrowding and “misplaced” juveniles, the general poor conditions particularly for kids kept in prisons, lack of adequate adherence to the law when arresting, remanding as well as committing the juveniles to approved schools. For instance, it has been discovered in the past that some juveniles had stayed in remand awaiting trial for up to four years without appearing before a magistrate. “The children in these prisons were alleged to be abused sexually, physically and emotionally, and were also not given proper health care, causing the spread of infections,” he notes asking “The major questions being posed, therefore, is how grave might the situation of juveniles turn out to be in the present conditions when the deteriorating situation of prisoners in general appears to be out of control? How much hope and trust should we have in the prison authorities as regards the administration of the juvenile justice given the prevailing conditions?” CRIDOC is therefore appealling to prison authorities, relevant Government authorities at Capital Hill, Social Welfare Department, and other key stakeholders “to move in very quickly and ensure that the rights of children are guaranteed at all costs. We urge them to ensure that, in this present environment, the arrest of children, as well as their treatment in police cells and prison, should not be a traumatic experience and should strictly take into consideration the “Best Interest of the Child” principle as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC)”.

The organization recommends the authorities to apply to the letter the recently enacted law on children, the Child (Care, Protection and Justice) Act 2010, which clearly stipulates that children cannot be detained in police stations or with adult offenders but in specially created ‘safety homes’. “Children should be taken to reformatory schools for rehabilitation and eventual reintegration back into their communities,” he says adding advising that the “Diversion System” for misdemeanors committed by minors should be encouraged, even though the courts are not currently operational. The system encourages that a child can be diverted away from the criminal justice system if the offense is not serious and a child voluntarily admits responsibility. “Failure to observe some or all of our recommendations may put the children at great risk for as long as the overcrowding in police cells and prisons remain unresolved,” warns Kayange. CRIDOC is a non-profit organisation established to contribute towards the promotion and protection of rights and development of children and young people through information exchange, information documentation and information dissemination.

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Owner: Charles Mkulapdf: Newstime Africa


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