BY VERONICA BABIRYE
More children in Uganda who are caught up in the legal system now have a safe space in which to confidently express themselves, thanks to the tireless advocacy work of Viva’s partner network, CRANE.
The promotion of children’s rights is a responsibility not only for the government but every member of the society.
Children come in contact with legal processes as victims of abuse, witnesses of crime, those in conflict with the law and sometimes because their parents have cases in court.
In Kampala, the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (ODPP) handles numerous cases, many of them falling in the category of defilement and the majority of victims are children as young as three months old. The perpetrators are well known to the victims sometimes even relatives.
A while back, prosecutors carefully prepared cases to defend victims of defilement but were failing too often because the children did not have the courage to speak in court and this led to many cases being lost.
CRANE’s partnership with the ODPP led to the training of more than 400 public prosecutors to promote child-friendly ways of approaching children so that they are respected and dignified in the process.
This led to the launch of the first child-friendly space at the ODPP – a beautiful and fully-equipped room that gives a child a relaxing and free environment to express themselves. Click here to see a video about the launch.
“The room is the first of its kind to cater for a very important vulnerable part of society of our clientele,” says His Lordship Justice Mike Chibita, Director of Public Prosecution in Uganda.
This has been rolled out so far in four other ODPP regional offices so that children in the different parts of the country are given an opportunity to go through a less traumatising court process.
The rooms include a wide range of therapeutic books both for children and prosecutors, play materials and a lot to help them relax and tell their story with ease and without intimidation.
And with CRANE’s provision of anatomical dolls to support ODPP in handling of gender and sexual offences in court, conviction rates have increased from 50% to 70%.
With such child-friendly rooms across the country, we believe that children will have less traumatising traditional court moments which will lead to good quality evidence and thus more convictions or justice.
Over the last year, the Covid-19 crisis has slowed down our advocacy work, particularly the processes involved in seeking justice, but it did not stop it completely.
CRANE’s safeguarding team has carried on with training and other activities that promote the same. The Good Treatment Campaign ran throughout December, which was a platform to convey lots of advocacy messages.
Activities for 2021 have already started. This week, I joined a team from CRANE in setting up another child-friendly space in another town outside Kampala A safeguarding training is scheduled for next week in Karamoja region, which is heavily affected by trafficking in Uganda.
It is tense in Uganda following presidential elections and we are anticipating another lockdown very soon. Please pray for peace for our country, and wisdom for our leaders as they navigate this pandemic and everything that is likely to come with it, and for the safety of children.
Veronica Babirye is Viva Africa’s Assistant Administrator