Children who commit petty crimes should be rehabilitated instead of being tried in courts of law, the newly launched Diversion Guidelines have stated.
The guidelines were launched recently by the Uganda Police Force (UPF) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). According to a joint press release, the new guidelines, which are coming into force after 19 years, "will ensure that minors who commit petty offences are diverted from the formal justice system through procedures, structures, and programmes that help reconcile them with the aggrieved through non-judicial bodies, thus avoiding the negative effects of formal judicial proceedings."
The police will facilitate the rehabilitation process and must brief the offender's parents or guardians about the offense committed so the family can help the child never to commit the crime again. It is hoped that if carried out effectively, the diversion will help prevent such minor offences from clogging up the already jammed formal justice system.
Also, research, according to the statement, has shown that rehabilitation rather than a trial, can effectively help children not to re-offend. Under the guidelines, however, children who have committed grave offences, their cases will be referred to a judge or magistrate who will then decide whether to undertake court proceedings.
The new guidelines are principally in line with the Children (Amendment) Act 2016, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its guidelines, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
In Uganda, children below 18 years can be arrested and detained for petty offences. Sometimes, their rights are abused because most police cells lack child-friendly detention facilities. According to the Justice, Law and Order Sector annual report 2017/18, the national diversion rate is 76.3 per cent.
"I would like to make sure that every police officer in each community understands how to apply diversion to make a true change. In order to acheive that, everybody should be involved in trainings on how to use the guidelines rather than just distributing the guidelines", said Maureen Atuhaire, acting commissioner of police child and family protection department.