Kampala, Uganda | URN | Maj Gen Stephen Muzeeyi Sabiiti, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP), has cautioned police officers against incarcerating children.
Sabiiti, who was speaking at the launch of children diversionary guidelines for police officers on Thursday, said police officers detaining children do more harm than good thus affecting their physical and mental development.
Detained children, according to Sabiiti, often become hardcore criminals. This, he attributed to the fact that during their incarceration they find themselves in an environment where they meet and interact with adults imprisoned for various crime.
Sabiiti cited procedures all police officers must follow when children are brought to them in conflict with the law. According to the diversionary procedures, police shall receive and investigate complaints against a child and must ascertain the age of the child in conflict with the law.
Other diversionary procedures include ascertaining whether the offence alleged to be committed is within the scope of diversion, confirming that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a case and inform the person in the area in which the child resides and who have a mandate to ensure the protection of the children.
Police statistics of last year show 2,934 children were charged in courts of law for engaging in various criminal activities. Of these, two thousand three hundred fifty-five boys were charged in court whereas five hundred ninety-six girls also interfaced with judicial process.
Police last revised diversionary guidelines 19 years ago but according to Sabiiti, there was need to ensure new guidelines are issued for purposes of helping children understand crimes they have committed and be helped to reform.
In order to ensure effectiveness of the latest children diversion guidelines for police officers, a child who has been previously diverted shall not be considered as having previously committed an offence and shall not have a criminal record.
“A child who has been previously diverted shall not be considered eligible for diversion in case of subsequent commission of an offence, provided it is in the best interest of the child. The completion of a diversion measure by the child should result in a definite and final closure of the case,” reads the diversion guidelines.
Rachael Odoi, Justice Law and Order Sector- JLOS Senior Technical Advisor, says that there was need to have concerted efforts towards addressing mistakes or crimes committed by children. She said treating children as criminals in most cases ruins their future.
Dr Doreen Mulenga, UNICEF Country representative, said the new guidelines will ensure that minors who commit petty offences are diverted from formal justice system through procedure, structure and programmes that help reconcile them with the aggrieved through non-judicial bodies, thus avoiding the negative effects of formal judicial proceedings.