Monday, September 21, 2020

OUR CHILD AND THE COURTROOM: DO THEY HAVE REAL JUSTICE?

The early 1990s marked a change in our recognition of children’s rights, including the ratification of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child, by our government.

It was around this time that Childline Botswana, an organization that is aimed at protecting children from abuse and promoting children’s rights, was born. The preceding noise to these developments is well known to most Batswana.

Suddenly there was a group of people who said children had rights and what more the government was in support of that! Can the situation be more preposterous than that? That was the general feeling among the very conservative Tswana adult population of that time.

The recognition of children’s rights was established by the declaration on the rights of children by the League of Nations in 1924. It was, however, not until later years that countries made strides towards the promotion of children’s rights as is the case with Botswana.

A democratic society is that which protects its citizenry as best as possible and that, no doubt, is dependent on the justice system. I do not have a legal background but my take is that our justice system is fairly efficient.

We all know of senior members of our communities who have been dragged before our courts of law and some have even served time behind bars. That situation is so highly unlikely if not outright impossible in some of our African counterparts and that is one of the reasons why I am so proud to be a Motswana.

Childline is dedicated to providing a voice for voiceless children and it is for this reason that there is a need to look further into our justice system and try to find out if it is as friendly to our children as I suppose it is for the rest of the citizenry.
I mean, I can only imagine the trauma that violated children have to go through, and add that to vigorous court appearances. It is no doubt traumatizing to adults.

The courtroom, the robes, the legal jargon, how does our justice system try to make things easy for our little ones?

Punitive measures against culprits serve many reasons one of which is incapability of the offender to commit crime during their period of incarceration. Locking up a pedophile automatically protects a potential child victim during the pedophile’s period of incarceration, no doubt about that.

But how do we only attain justice for that violated little soul?
Emily Ruhukwa of Ditshwanelo highlighted the limitations of the justice system to the fact that the justice system, especially with regards to the trial process is about one person’s word against another. When it comes to children it may get even trickier.

Imagine a little girl who is violated for years and they can not say anything because they fear for their own safety and that of their own families. And when they do say it out who is going to believe their word against that of the respectable gentleman, they often wonder. Somehow these issues, however, find a way to come out and when they do it is all about proof as is the norm with any other case.

I do not have any problem with the request for proof. In fact, the next worse thing to violating that little purity is wrongful imprisonment! However let us look at the criminal justice process.

A little girl has been raped, (I am not being a feminist by referring to the girl child regularly, merely reflecting on our society). She goes on to tell her parents who take her to a police station, where she will be questioned by police officers, who then transport her to a nearest medical facility for examination.

After the examination, she leaves with the family back home. A social worker is then engaged to accompany the child to court. The next time the issue is talked about is when the officers come to inform the family about the trial date, where the child may come face to face with their violator.

They then have to relieve their story to a courtroom full of strangers before undergoing a vigorous cross examination from the defense lawyer.

The procedure may be that the child undergoes therapy to help prepare them for court, but the sad truth is that it is only in a few instances that that actually happens.

In my opinion, the major reason is the lack of enough child protection institutions in the country and any of the requirements are the social workers’ responsibility whom by some’s own confession are overworked or are not fully equipped to deal with that.
Are our social workers fully equipped to offer therapy? That notwithstanding, let us say there is so much irrefutable proof and the perpetrator is locked away. Great news right?

Well, the little girl has been traumatized to unimaginable levels and do we imagine that only time will heal her wounds? Add the fact that she had to relive her nightmare to a room full of adult strangers for that perpetrator to be locked away.

At my age, I still shudder at the thought of going through that and I can only imagine for that child who is yet to enjoy life’s pleasures and who had her childhood yanked away from her forever. Do we have any structures to help the children deal with their experience after the criminal justice system has played its part? If there is, it certainly is not implemented.

The new Children’s Act is an impressive piece of legislation by all standards. The concern is who are the implementers? Do they fully understand what is required of them as primary bodies responsible for the implementation? I hope our leaders address this problem, because without thorough knowledge of the law by those who are supposed to implement it, we might as well have stuck to our 1984 act!

Catch the live discussion on this topic on Saturday 13th February 2010 on RB2 from 12:30 hrs!!

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.