Justice for child offenders


Juvenile delinquency is now common in the country especially with teenagers falling prey to
drug and substance abuse which has become a national programme. In response to this, the
country has an initiative to deal with young offenders. It is called pre-trial diversion (PTD).
Although the Government accepted this proposal some years ago, it has not been so widely
publicised so as to generate an informed conversation among members of the public.
PTD seeks to keep children away from the harmful effects of the formal criminal and penal
system. The programme, supported by UNICEF through the Child Protection Fund, addresses
the reasons behind the offences committed by the young children, and provides redress and
rehabilitative interventions that allow them to re-integrate into society.
PTD avoids bringing the young offenders before the courts. It is an initiative that prevents
young offenders from receiving a criminal record, early in their lives and therefore being
labelled criminals.
This is because a criminal record can condemn the young offender to blacklisting.
The PTD brings together parents, teachers, law-enforcement agents, all bound by a desire to
ensure that offence does not attract a custodial sentence. One of its aims is to ensure that the
young offenders become responsible and accountable for their actions.
Findings of a study into youthful offenders established that most children commit criminal
offences due to socio-economic reasons and that the pre-trial diversion programme is largely
effective in the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.
The study found that diversion programmes for youths were significantly more successful
than traditional juvenile justice systems in reducing recidivism, with programmes focusing
on medium to high-risk youths being more effective than just targeting low-risk offenders.
Through PTD, a young person’s contact with the formal justice system is minimised.
To keep them clear of other prisoners and far from being misled for the rest of their lives,
young people who have to be incarcerated, are separated from alleged and convicted adult
offenders throughout their contact with the justice system.
PTD helps the young offenders to make significant changes in their lives and thus prevent
further entry into the criminal justice system.
It opens up the judicial process for education and rehabilitative procedures to come into play
for the benefit of all parties affected by the offence, while also lessening the case load on the
formal justice system.

Guiding the programme is the commitment to ensuring that the best interests of the young
person are paramount, while detention is usually a last resort and is for the shortest period of
The purpose of the diversion programmes is to redirect the youthful offenders from the
justice system through programming, supervision and support.
Under the pre-trial diversion concept, boys and girls will be treated differently, where
necessary, to ensure maximum benefit from their participation in the diversion process. 
The aim is to provide child sensitive social protection services that ensure a safe, secure and
supportive environment that is conducive to child growth and development.
What may be necessary would be to roll out a national campaign, after the August
harmonised elections, on Pre-Trial Diversion, so that there is greater awareness of the
programme, and consequently a significant buy-in from the general public. A lot could be
achieved, especially in light of the drug and substance abuse problem among youths.

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