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The Law of Juveniles in Practice

While various laws guarantee the rights of a child and provide for the protection of children, in practice this does not seem to be the case. One of the guiding principles in the implementation of the Children Act is time being of the essence. The

Act provides that all matters relating to a child should be handled expeditiously. Nevertheless, I established that many children spend more than a year on remand before a trial especially in capital offence cases. Due to the lack of capacity in magistrate courts, as well as the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the timelines as provided for in the law are not adhered to. This was evident in Nagulu detention centre where many juveniles had gone past their due date of trial.

The Human Rights Commission report of 2014 (Published in 2015) established that suspects could be detained for periods ranging from 10 to 30 days in police custody for reasons such as delays by the resident state attorney to sanction a file, incomplete investigations, corruption, lack of resources and lack of skills in investigations (UHRC Annual Report, 2015).

While children below 12 years are precluded from criminal responsibility, some children below this age have found themselves on trial within various courts in the country. In fact, an official at the remand home in Nagulu put the figure between 3 and 5. The Nagulu detention centre had only one old omnibus to transport juveniles to various courts in Uganda, but it is often out of fuel and when it breaks down, children cannot go to court.

Resettling the children after they have left the home is another big challenge. The officer in charge of Nagulu detention centre indicated that once children are released, they are passed on to their relatives, and no follow-up is done due to the lack of resources. Some of these children turn out to be worse criminals than they were before they left the homes. In essence, there is practically no known system to track juvenile offenders from the time they come into the homes up to the time they are released. No one knows what happens to these juveniles when they leave the homes. It is a sad state of affairs.

While the law prohibits corporal punishments, some juveniles in Kampiringisa confided in me that this method is sometimes used to punish them. It is mainly used against those who become violent against their fellow inmates. Isolation is also used as one of the tools for punishing children.

Detaining juveniles with adults at the police station is still rampant. While the law prohibits this, all the police stations in Kampala admitted that they detain adults with juveniles due to the lack of facilities. Each police post has one cell, and once juveniles are arrested, they do not have special treatment. Although they are supposed to have detention centres, juveniles are taken there within 2 days of their arrest. It is worse when they are arrested over the weekend. They spend the entire weekend in police cells before they are taken to detention centres on Monday. There is also evidence that once in these police cells, they are tortured by adult detainees. In 2014, the Uganda Human Rights Commission found 91 juveniles incarcerated with adults compared to 26 in 2013 (UHRC Annual Report, 2014). Some were found in prisons while others were found in police stations detained. Three government prisons were found to have these juveniles.

Nevertheless, some prisons have constructed juvenile facilities for detention. The Human Rights Commission in 2014 established that seven prisons and one military detention centre have constructed these facilities (UHRC Annual Report,

2014). They have also found that 10.3 % of police stations have constructed detention facilities for children. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of police stations in the country. What this means is that many children are still detained with adults in police stations before they are passed on to juvenile detention facilities.

 
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