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Monday, May 27, 2024
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Child Justice Bill On The Cards

MUTARE-Zimbabwe is in the process of drafting a Child Justice Bill that will usher a liberal approach in punishing child offenders in conflict with the law.

By Donald Nyarota

The drafting of the bill currently underway with technical support from the European Union (EU) and Centre for Applied Legal Research, under the Ministry of Justice focuses on reintegration of child offenders to curb criminality among children.

Acting director Strategic Policy, Planning and Legal Research in the Ministry of Justice, Tapiwa Chiwenga said the bill will differ from the Child Justice Act as it will focus on children that are in conflict with the law.

Chiwenga said the bill is aimed at mainstreaming deferential treatment for children in conflict with the law, as their offenses are not considered at the same level of criminality with adults.

She said the new legislation will upscale pilot efforts to introduce PreTrial Diversion, where children are diverted from the normal justice system to protect them from exposure to the criminal justice system

“The Children’s Act is more inclined towards the social, economic and even political entitlements of children while the Child Justice Act is inclined more towards the children who are found to be in contact with the law from a criminal or civil perspective.

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“Thus, the Childrens’ Act addresses issues of care while the Child Justice addresses the acts or omissions of children with the criminal and to a lesser extent the civil justice system.

“The many differences and complexities of juvenile justice require that a separate piece of legislation be enacted and deal with specific issues that relate to children,” said Chiwenga.

She added, “A separate criminal statute for juveniles will safeguard children who are in conflict with the law as they still need protection and proper rehabilitation, taking their age into consideration.”

Director legislative drafting in the office of the Attorney General, Jameson Mukaratirwa said the new policy will embrace principles of restorative justice to save children from being branded criminals.

Mukaratirwa said the law, which is at the final drafting stage before submission to cabinet and parliament for approval, will increase the age of criminal capability from seven to twelve years.

“This is a constitutional alignment matter and it has gone through various stages that other constitutionally aligned laws have gone through as well, stakeholder consultations were conducted after some research was done to deal with weak areas with children in contact with the laws.

“It is a new policy measure that will deal with issues relating to children in contact with the law, we are at an advanced stage having done stakeholder consultations we are now finalizing the draft that we will send to cabinet for consideration before it gets to parliament.

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“Proposals that have been made relate to certain principles, the major principle being the best interests of the child, there is also the principle of restoration meaning that when a child is in conflict with the law the idea is to divert that child from the normal or conventional criminal procedures.

“This principle is derived from the fact that it has been noted that most of our children are in conflict with the law not because of their volition but because of the environment that surrounds them, the law will focus on rehabilitating children before they are branded criminals.

“Under our current laws, a child who is seven years is considered to be capable of committing an offense but it has been observed that at international law the age of criminal capacity has been increased, in our case cabinet has approved that the age of criminal capacity of our children be increased from seven to twelve,” he said

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