Cases Of Children In Contact With The Law On The Rise
The current economic hardships have resulted in an increase in juvenile delinquency, the Consultant Lawyer for Justice for Children, Dr Musa Kika has said.
Making a presentation during a forum on children’s rights, Kika said cases of children in conflict with the law had gone up with the bulky of them being theft and unlawful entry.
“Cases of children in conflict with the law are on the rise this year especially theft and unlawful entry. In general, cases of delinquency have increased,” said Dr Kika.
“The January protests that were sparked as a result of economic hardships also left children in the hands of the law. We handled about 87 cases of children that were part of the protests and over fifty were caught up in the looting,” added Dr Kika
“In April, about 70 children were arrested for participating in Vuzu parties. When we invited the parents for counselling, we found out that most of the guardians were third parties that is grandmothers, aunties hence we were dealing with absent parenting,” said Dr Kika.
“Cases of divorce and separation were also skyrocketing with cases above 2450 applying for child support,” added Dr Kika.
In terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, children below seven years have no criminal capacity. Criminal capacity denotes responsibility and children younger than seven do not have the capacity to take responsibility for all their actions, so they cannot be held liable for crime even if their actions are unlawful.
Ordinarily, no criminal charges are proffered against children between ages seven and 14, unless there is sufficient and convincing evidence which shows that the child intended to commit the crime and was aware that it was unlawful. That is a matter of evidence and opinion of a court or people with the expertise to work with children. Each individual case is assessed on its own merit.
In the present case, if the children arrested for looting and stealing knew it was wrong and unlawful, but continued doing it anyway, officers would be they would be liable for their behaviour.
There was a group of children arrested in Bulawayo for stoning police officers. The children who simply did it out of fun, ignorance and without knowing the unlawfulness of their action, would not be criminally liable. However, those children among them who knew it was unlawful to stone policemen and intended to harm them, would be liable.
Child criminals have to be treated and housed differently from adult criminals. Section 84(1) of the Children’s Act prescribes the procedures to follow during child arrests. Children should not be detained in a prison or police cell or locked-up anywhere before they are convicted, unless the detention is absolutely necessary and if there is no other suitable safe facility for them.
Section 28(1) tasks the Minister of Social Welfare with establishing and maintaining remand homes to host and detain children awaiting trial or sentencing for their crimes. Presently, there are no such facilities and arrested children should be released into the care of their parents or guardians while their trial is ongoing.
The Prison Act Part X Section 3 provides for the separation and confinement of certain classes of prisoners by age, among other classifications. Young children in prison are to be kept separately from adults. This helps to protect them from abuse and exposure to various undesirable influences. Under the Prison Act, young prisoners should be those below 20 years of age.
Whatever the circumstances, child suspects and convicted criminals have to be protected by the State all the time. Section 19(1) of the Constitution dictates that their best interests in whatever the situation have to be prioritized in all matters that involve them.
It should be noted that protecting children does not mean helping them conceal their crimes and shielding them from taking responsibility. If children have committed crimes and are old enough to know right from wrong, they have to be taught to take responsibility but in a protective way.