Children behind bars demand speedy justice, access to education

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On Wednesday 26th June, 2024, children in detention at the Remand Home in Freetown have demanded immediate government actions to provide education and ensure speedy trials for children detained at the Remand Homes in Freetown and Bo.

On average, between 25 to 30 children and 30 to 35 children are incarcerated at Remand Homes in Freetown and Bo respectively, accused of various offences for which they have been charged.

They  include those who are below the minimum age of criminal responsibility (14 years) according to the Child Rights Act of Sierra Leone. Some of those children have been in pre-trial detention for over two years.

According to one of the children at the Remand Home: “some of us are here for simple offences and we have not attended court or witnessed hearings for months and others for a year we are begging the government especially justice actors for speedy trial of our cases because our education continue to go backward and we are the future of the country.”

More specifically, the children urged the government, through the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Aid Board, the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police, among others to provide education for detained children, speed up trials, address ambiguities in the revised Child Rights Act, implement multiple alternatives to detention, invest in prevention programs, and improve restorative justice for children, especially in close relationships.

In his statement, the Executive Director of Defence for Children International – Sierra Leone, Abdul Manaff Kemokai (Mr.) stated that “for these children, going to school is a priority and they are seriously worried for missing classes indefinitely. Education is not only a fundamental right of children on its own, but it is an enabler for children to access other rights now and in future and it provides a chance for children to escape the cycle of poverty and crime that ensnares so many.”

 Mr. Kemokai, however, added that the current system leaved these young minds idle, their potentials wasted, and they continued to experience psychological trauma for being constantly locked up indefinitely against their best interest.

He said International law provided that the use of detention for children should only be applied as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time and urged states to exhaust alternatives to detention, adding that children in detention were excluded from the free quality education programme and not benefiting from the Radical Inclusion Policy.

Responding to the call from the children, the Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Mr. Mohamed Haji-Kella, stated that: “Access to justice for children is a priority for the government of Sierra Leone and assured the children that their voices have been heard and their issues will be urgently looked into” He urged them to stay away from violence and focus on their rehabilitation to become good citizens and not to blame themselves for a mistake. The deputy Minister also encouraged Defence for Children International Sierra Leone to ensure that the concerns of the children are given conservation when drafting the new Child Rights bill after reviewing the current child rights act of 2007 that is ongoing now.

At the end of the consultation, medical, hygiene and sanitation items were donated to the Remand Home by Defence for Children International Sierra Leone in commemoration of this year’s Day of the African Child with the theme ‘Education for all children in Africa: the time is now’.

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