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Staff in child justice sector lack awareness, inquiry finds

[Congo] Children in the Pool area of the RoC.
Date of photo 24 Aug 2004.
WFP says the promise of a free meal at lunchtime has over the past few years seen up to 39,000 children going to school in the country - file photo (IRIN)

Most of the officials who work in child justice sector in the Republic of Congo do not know the various requirements that govern children’s rights. Consequently, these rights are not respected, especially when children are imprisoned, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said in an inquiry supported by the UN Children's Fund.

The inquiry, titled "Evaluation de la justice des mineurs au Congo-Brazzaville"' ("Assessment of Child Justice in Congo-Brazzaville"), was conducted in September 2004. Its results were made public on Friday in the nation's capital, Brazzaville, during a child rights awareness workshop.

The secretary-general of justice at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Adrien, Joël Angama, said the workshop had two main goals: to allow decision-makers and actors on the child justice sector to learn about the outcomes of the inquiry; and to set up a project for a plan of action to solve the problems raised by the inquiry.

The inquiry on child justice was conducted in the country's four main cities of Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie and Ouesso. These cities account for at least 70 percent of Congo's estimated three million people. The inquiry detailed underlining social problems which, it said, had to be solved as soon as possible in order to have a fair child justice system.

The problems include inhuman detention conditions: the cells do not comply with legal standards; detained children share the cell with adults; children are malnourished; lack access to education and/or vocational training; and do not receive social and health support.

"When they are arrested and held for questioning, children are abused," the inquiry said. "Moreover, some children are held for questioning more than 72 hours, the legal maximal time period," it said.

It added: "When they are arrested, children are not always aware of their rights.

"Plaintiffs sent the children directly into jail without notifying the parents. When the children are in jail, they do not have any leisure activities, they do not receive any social, educational or psychological support," it said.

According to the inquiry, 85.2 percent of children surveyed belonged to a group or to a friend's group prior to their arrest; 28.3 percent regularly visited clubs, 78.4 percent went regularly to video clubs where they could watch violent, action and pornographic movies.

According to the authors of the report on the inquiry, the difficulties such children faced were linked to financial and logistical problems. Structures and qualified people to deal with children's legal rights were also absent.

In order to respect children's rights, the ministry recommended the setting up of children's brigades in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire to work on prevention and suppression of crimes, and the establishment of emergency centres to shelter children arrested at night.

Efforts to sensitise children on their rights included the establishment of a Children's parliament in 2003. This body provides a forum for children to speak and exchange ideas about their problems. It has 83 members drawn from the 11 departments of the country and is under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Members of the Children's parliament met in Brazzaville in September to debate the abuses children face. They said child abuse often went unnoticed and was supported by the culture of silence, especially when it happened within the family.

"The situation of the children in our country is still worrying: there are still children who are abandoned, not registered at the registry office, in the streets, disabled or abused," Enrika Erna Cleyde Ntari, the outgoing president of Children's Parliament said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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