A voice for children in Uganda’s justice system

Viva and its partner network in Uganda have an increasing presence in ensuring that children’s rights are protected through the country’s justice system.

CRANE has had the privilege of providing training in Child Development and Psychology to all prosecutors in Uganda over the past two years.

Such was the impact of this training on the institution and the individuals that many said it has changed how they operate with their own family and the way they do their work with and for children.

This involvement led to CRANE and Viva being invited to partner with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) at a major international conference held recently in Kampala.

The 2019 Head of Prosecution Across the Commonwealth (HOPAC) Conference had the theme of ‘Protecting Children’s Rights in Criminal Justice Systems’ and discussed how Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can support the work of the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS).

The sharing and deliberations of the Heads of Prosecution demonstrated the enormous challenges national leaders face. The desire for child-centred justice cannot remove the need for accountability and responsibility for children in conflict with the law, whilst at the same time meeting the needs of child victims and child witnesses.

All children in contact with JLOS need effective ‘wrap-around services’ to support them through a difficult, unfamiliar and stressful process. This is where CSOs need to come in and ensure that the rights that these children carry can be fully met.

Partnerships with Police, Prosecutors and Judges need to be pursued to give effective support for children. This ought to ensure that every child has a specifically trained lawyer, or ensuring that a child is present in the proceedings when it is critical, and that the children receive specialist support, counselling and rehabilitation to help them operate as stable, law-abiding citizens.

In Uganda, CRANE and Viva have helped the ODPP to open the first children’s room in Uganda (right) where children can wait pre-interview, can be counselled, and can give video evidence to avoid court. Lord Justice Chibita, the Director of Public Prosecution in Uganda, now wants such a room in each of the 16 regional offices he has.

One focus at the conference was on child sexual exploitation (CSE). In Uganda, 70 per cent of all prosecutions directly relate to this crime and the revision of procedures is essential, not just there but in all countries. Group-based CSE had hit many UK cities. International CSE and trafficking is expanding.

At the conference, Max Hill, QC, described emerging trends in the UK that are sadly becoming widespread across the globe: facilitation of online CSE is growing faster than the ability to shut down sites.

Faith Kembabazi, CRANE’s Director, says, “I am encouraged by hearing Public Prosecutors urging us all to find ways to work together, with CSOs providing relevant wrap-around services such as counselling and education, and prosecutors and their partners in JLOS providing fair and safe rights-based child justice.”

As the HOPAC delegates returned home to reflect on their own situations, CRANE will continue to explore collaboration with the ODPP in Uganda, and Viva will continue to provide models such as the Good Treatment Campaign and Child Ambassadors.

All of these activities aim to release vulnerable children from abuse and free to fulfil their God-given potential.