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Godfrey O. Odongo


The history of juvenile justice systems in Africa is more recent compared to other contexts such as Europe and the USA. The development of juvenile justice systems in Africa was shaped by a colonial legacy under which the legal framework in most of the countries mirrored laws received from the colonizing country— Britain in the case of Kenya and most of Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa. This meant that a law received from the British, the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969, was the legal framework for dealing with issues affecting children, including juvenile crime, for over four decades after Kenya’s independence in 1963. It was only in 2001 that Parliament enacted a new law—the Children’s Act. The new law and subsequent constitutional reform processes motivated the inclusion of a comprehensive children’s rights clause in Kenya’s Constitution in 2010. Child law reform was impacted by normative legal standards regarding children’s rights (e.g., UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (“the CRC”)) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Children’s Charter), which Kenya has ratified.

This chapter discusses the extent to which children’s rights norms have shaped the legal framework governing the Kenyan juvenile justice system across an array of issues such as age and the legal status of children, pretrial diversion, the requirement for separate courts, institutions and procedures specific to children accused of committing crimes, and sentencing practice that could be distinguished from the regular criminal justice system. The author argues that following a trajectory that mirrored competing ideals of welfarist, just deserts, and other philosophies that underpinned Western juvenile justice systems, Kenya is

G.O. Odongo (*)

Wellspring Advisors, New York, USA

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S.H. Decker, N. Marteache (eds.), International Handbook of Juvenile Justice, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45090-2_2

an example of a country whose ongoing quest for a full-fledged juvenile justice system is impacted by children’s rights norms contained in international treaties to which Kenya is legally bound.

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