Demystifying access to a child friendly justice system in Africa.

Tapiwa Bengewa
Publication Year:
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

The courtroom is an intimidating place for adults, let alone unaccompanied children who do not understand the language of the proceedings. Children deserve better. Better can be attainable but we have to adapt to changes at grassroot level. Its high time those who wish to be Lawyers, Doctors, Politicians, Prosecutors, let go of wishful thinking where we have to wait to grow up to become what we always dreamt of being or falling for the opportunity cost. If the lawyers and magistrates of tomorrow, begin understanding the language of the courtroom now, the knowledge could be imparted to classmates and the message is passed. When one finally grows and appeals before a real magistrate, he is not intimidated by the jargon but rather is reminisces of childhood when he learnt some of the words being used making the courtroom an even safer space.  

Yes, access to a child friendly justice system in Africa is attainable and could impact societies to raise young leaders who know who they are, what protects them, their value and worth in line with the set Constitution and the African Charter on Children`s Rights. When Zimbabwe signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as enshrined, without reservations she bound herself to take all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures to implement the rights of the children in a friendly manner.

The topic of Children`s rights, our rights, has been long attacked but has not been thoroughly exhausted. Most of my peers are afraid to visit the courts, or even talk to a lawyer even though most are acquainted to the phrase, “Don’t talk to me, talk to my lawyer.” The million-dollar question is, Is there a child friendly justice system in place for children? Well, for us to be cruising in this same ship of ideas and solution steered by your very own let me take you through what a child friendly justice system is.

A child friendly justice system is one which guarantees the respect and the effective implementation of all children’s rights at the highest attainable level….It is, in particular, justice that is accessible, age appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child, respecting the rights of the child including the rights to due process, to participate in and to understand the proceedings, to respect for private and family life and to integrity and dignity.

A friendly justice system begins at home. Are giving our children a chance to explain their actions and realize where they really went wrong which will ultimately lead to the development of responsible, accountable citizens.

Making the justice process ‘child friendly’ is a key priority for the children’s rights community. An abundance of articles has been produced by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to highlight how justice proceedings can be made more accessible for children and, in 2010, the Council of Europe issued its comprehensive ‘Guidelines on Child Friendly Justice’. Despite these efforts, children remain ill-informed, not just about the nature of justice proceedings in which they may be implicated, but about the very existence and scope of their rights and how to enforce them. Despite unequivocal acknowledgement that the availability and accessibility of information is the crucial starting point in a children’s rights-based approach to dispensing justice, there has been surprisingly little attempt to scrutinize the availability, quality and accessibility of information about laws and policies affecting children. Attempts to develop child friendly justice system in Africa have yet to progress beyond adult-driven, largely tokenistic and superficial re-branding exercises. As such, efforts to develop child friendly resources are often of limited value in empowering young people to develop their legal literacy and realize their rights in practice. We reflect on our attempt to develop an explicitly children’s rights-based approach to the development of child friendly justice system resources with a view to enhancing their purchase.

Promoting access to a child friendly justice system will lead to effective judgements being passed in courts and building confidence of law in young citizens through informed decisions. Information is vital before, during and after court proceedings. As children we need to understand the roles of the justice system members so as to know is best to approach on certain matters. Imajeni, a 15-year-old approaching the High Court over a stolen bicycle. It sounds funny, but the humiliation he faces will imprint a lifelong impact on his fear of the courts.  In 2019 I was afforded an opportunity to be part of an amazing and fruitful children`s dialogue hosted by the Swedish Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with Legal Resources Foundation. Children are ready to engage on issues that affect them and it is left for the leadership to bring on board childly voices. You can access the dialogue 



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