- The 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Article 53) recognizes the right of all children to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour.
- Both state and non-state actors should therefore join hands and endeavour to increase protection for children and adolescents from violence, exploitation and abuse, as well as harmful cultural practices
Juveniles come to the attention of law enforcement for many reasons; some for-law violations and others for normal adolescent conduct.
Legal responses to juvenile offending should be grounded in emerging scientific knowledge about adolescent development, and tailored to an individual offender's needs and social environment.
During adolescence, the brain is still immature; adolescents are less able to regulate their behaviour, they are more sensitive to external influences (such as peer pressure and immediate reward), and they show less ability to make judgments and decisions that require future orientation.
The 2010 Constitution of Kenya (Article 53) recognizes the right of all children to be protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment and punishment, and hazardous or exploitative labour.
Both state and non-state actors should therefore join hands and endeavour to increase protection for children and adolescents from violence, exploitation and abuse, as well as harmful cultural practices.
The initiatives should include ensuring children have improved access to prevention, care, support and justice services required for their physical, mental and social well-being.
In addition, more effort should be made to equip frontline child protection workers with the skills and tools they need to provide these services.
Equally, family-based alternatives for children in institutional care should be encouraged even for those perceived to have been against the law, including reintegrating them with extended family or with foster families when need be.
Furthermore, the various players should work with children, families and communities to ensure that they are able to reject harmful practices, respond to violence against children, discourage family separation and adopt positive social norms.
Therefore, the news of the County Government of Kakamega coming up with a policy that is expected to address the societal challenges facing juveniles in the County is highly welcomed.
The policy as alluded to will champion the protection of minors against abuse involving them in various matters.
Notably through the children's assembly and making sure the children grow and ensure their development thus being positive agents of development.
It is agreeable that accountability practices should not be carried over from criminal courts (which are designed for adult offenders) to juvenile courts.
The African juvenile justice system relies heavily on confinement (much like the criminal justice system).
It routinely deprives youth of three conditions that are critically important to healthy adolescent development: active involvement by a parent figure, peer groups that value positive socialization and academic success, and activities that contribute to decision-making and critical-thinking abilities.
In particular, confinement (or “serving time”) is not necessary to assure that juveniles are held accountable, and in fact should be used only in rare circumstances, such as when a youth poses a high risk of harming others.
Instead, juvenile justice systems should put more emphasis on encouraging offender accountability through restorative justice, engaging in community service, and helping youths take responsibility and make amends for their actions.
Juvenile justice systems should help prevent reoffending through structured risk and needs assessments and using interventions rooted in knowledge about adolescent development.
Changes are needed if the juvenile justice system is to meet its aims of holding adolescents accountable, preventing reoffending, and treating them fairly.
In particular African states should establish task forces or commissions of inquiries to assess their current juvenile justice systems, and align laws, policies and practices with evolving knowledge around adolescent development and evidence-based programs.
These groups should intensify efforts and eliminate any policies that target or disadvantage minorities which are overrepresented at every stage of the juvenile justice system.
The seven hallmarks of a developmental approach to juvenile justice that should guide system reform are accountability without criminalization, alternatives to justice system involvement, individualized response based on needs and risks confinement only when necessary for public safety, genuine commitment to fairness, sensitivity to disparate treatment, and family engagement.
Dr. Humphrey Young, PhD, is a Public Policy & Development Expert.