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Failing law leaves children unprotected in Somaliland

Street children pose for a photographer in Hargeisa, capital of Somalia's self-declared republic of Somaliland.
(Abdi Hassan/IRIN)

Child rights activists have expressed concern over the stagnation of a juvenile justice law in Somalia's self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, where officials say an average of 200 children are detained every month by police.

According to Khadar Nour, a child protection activist in the capital, Hargeisa, children are regularly detained for minor offences and "end up being detained with adults because there are no rehabilitation centres for children or prisons for children".

Somaliland passed a juvenile justice law in 2007 but is yet to implement it due to what government officials say are financial constraints and lack of knowledge of the law by the responsible institutions and their staff.

The law puts the age of criminal liability at 15, and requires that punishment be proportionate to the circumstances of the child and the gravity and nature of the offence. It limits maximum punishment to 15 years and prohibits corporal punishment, life imprisonment and the death penalty. The law also sets out protective measures relating to the child's record, and ensures clear child participation and child rights during proceedings.

But according to an assessment conducted in August by Somaliland's ministry of justice, just 5 percent of the average 200 children detained monthly are processed though the judicial system; children are often arrested and freed arbitrarily.

Ahmed Ismail Ali, director of child protection in Somaliland's ministry of justice, said at the time of the assessment, a total of 104 children were in prison for offences such as theft, possession of illicit drugs and rape.

"Out of the total [number of children in prison], 10 percent were female; 59 percent of all children in prisons were convicted by courts mainly for rape, drug [possession] and gang-related offences as well as other minor offences, while the remaining 41 percent are on remand," Ali said, quoting the assessment. "During trial, it was learned that 46 percent of those convicted were subjected to arbitrary detention."

Police fail to apply law

The assessment found that more than half of Somaliland's police stations did not apply the juvenile justice law.

"This law... calls for the establishment of children's courts, children's pre-trial detention centres and children's rehabilitation centres," said Ahmed Aidid Hussein, the minister for justice, adding that the law had been held up primarily by a lack of funds for implementation and the training of police officers, social workers and other staff required to implement it.

However, officials with the UN Children's Fund in Hargeisa told IRIN the institutionalization of children was not ideal, and ways should be found to keep them within the community rather than in rehabilitation centres.

Traditionally, criminal cases against children in Somaliland are dealt with by clan elders, with the clan, and not the child, taking responsibility for the crime. The 2007 law aims to protect the rights of children in accordance with international human rights law in a way that harmonizes the provisions of secular, Sharia and customary laws relating to children in conflict with law.

"I appeal to international and UN partners engaged in juvenile justice to commit themselves to contribute to the establishment of these institutions without which juvenile justice cannot be implemented," Hussein 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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