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31.03.2006 General News

Surveys on juvenile justice launched

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Accra, March 31, GNA - Chief Justice, Mr Justice George Kingsley Acquah on Friday launched two survey reports on juvenile justice in Accra with a call on the public to protect children.

The two surveys - The State of Juvenile Justice and Access to Justice by Children - were initiated by the Judicial Service and the Department of Social Welfare in collaboration with United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO). They were conducted between January 2001 and February 2004. Mr Justice Acquah observed that all over the world there was recognition to create a protective environment that would shield children from exploitation, abuse and violence but "the abuse of children still pervades".

"In both developed and developing countries, children cope daily with the menace of street and domestic violence, sexual exploitation, pressure to use drugs, child labour and trafficking and other disturbing abuses."

The Chief Justice said in Ghana, societies and cultures were structured such that children occupied a delicate and voiceless position.

"Adults dictate children's access to essential resources." He noted that poverty in parts of the West Africa Sub-Region also endangered the lives of children and limited their potential. Mr Justice Acquah expressed regret that in spite of the existence of various comprehensive legal frameworks and legal provision, the state and implementation of these left much to be desired.

"To this end, those of us who are mandated with the application of the laws concerning children must strive to interpret them to the benefit of children," he declared.

He said judicial officers and judges in applying the law on children could protect their rights by resorting to the use of "equity and equitable doctrines to correct lapses in national laws when the need arose".

"We have to take swift and decisive action to reduce poverty that our children experience and protect them. Each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring that every child enjoys safe and productive childhood."

Commenting on the research conducted by the Judicial Service, the Chief Justice listed lack of financial and human resources, absence of concerted action by Ministries, Departments and Agencies responsible for children, delays and adjournments in court actions as some of the problems militating against child law reforms.

He said the research recommended the improvement and enforcement of laws on children.

The Chief Justice expressed optimism that the findings from the research would assist in designing a National Juvenile Justice Policy and inform the Government and policy makers on the performance of the law.

He stated that as part of the Judicial Service strategy, it would create more courts to handle juvenile justice and family and child protection issues.

The Chief Justice said the service would also intensify its Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) outreach programme to train more people at the community level.

Mr Kofi Adda, Minister of Youth and Employment, in a speech read on his behalf, mentioned some factors contributing to juvenile delinquency and juvenile crime justice as the breakdown of traditional family systems, non-maintenance of children, urbanization and streetism and lack of recreational centres.

Mr Adda said most of these problems could be solved if laws protecting the rights of children were implemented. He urged stakeholders to digest the findings and recommendations of the reports so that a policy on Juvenile Justice could be written. Mr Adda expressed concern over improper determination of age of juveniles during prosecution saying; "the improper determination of the age at the time of prosecution renders juveniles liable to being treated as adults".

He observed that some of these juveniles were sometimes sentenced to adult prison and they were hardened after leaving the prisons. Ms Anna Bossman, Acting Commissioner of Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), who chaired the occasion, observed that the nation was not doing enough to safeguard and protect the rights of children.

She pledged CHRAJ's support to continue its educational campaigns on the implication of streetism, sexual exploitation and corporal punishment in schools, among other things.

Ms Dorothy Rozga, Country Representative of UNICEF, said her outfit, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and other stakeholders would promote the establishment of child panels as required by the Children's Act in some selected districts to direct children away from judiciary proceedings towards community support. She said plans were underway to assist the Department of Social Welfare to develop a Juvenile Justice Policy for Ghana.