Gwain Colbert, Staff Writer, Dignity Television
A Juvenile Justice Reform program which will lay emphasis on alternatives to detention, humane incarceration, and reintegration of children-in-conflict-with-the-law has been launched in Bamenda, Regional capital of the North West of Cameroon.
The innovating juvenile justice program which is spearheaded by the Bamenda-based international Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, CHRAPA, and having as sidekicks the Bamenda City Council, BCC, and the Health Development Consultancy Services, HEDECS, was launched last Thursday April 9, 2015 in the presence of administrative, judicial and local authorities of the North West Region. On hand to give the project the attention it deserved was Ann Charlotte Sallmann, of the Economic, Commerce and Governance Department of the European Union, funders of the Juvenile Justice Reform program in Cameroon.
|Enthusiasm surrounding Innovating Justice Reform|
In his welcome speech at the ceremony that took place at the Conference Hall of Ayaba Hotel, the Government Delegate to the Bamenda City Council, Vincent Nji Ndumu said how happy the Bamenda City Council was to be associated to the project. He paid glowing tribute to Chrapa, lead organization in the execution chain for championing and bringing the idea to fruition. He said how happy the people of Bamenda were to receive the new project given that the future of Bamenda depended on how well or how bad children-in-conflict-with-the-law was being treated. He promised the total collaboration of the City Council and HEDECS as co-applicants in the successful execution of the project.
|Governor’s Representative making the point|
On his part, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Chrapa, Mr. Chongsi Joseph Ayeah who is also Cameroon’s U.N Permanent Mission Representative to the Geneva Human Rights Council said the new project was CHRAPA’s wish that the rights of the Cameroonian Child be fully protected and promoted in accordance with existing regional and international instruments. He narrated how the project has come to fill a felt-need given that all countries across the world were urged to move toward juvenile justice reform and Cameroon could not be left behind.
|Ann-Charlotte SALLMANN, EU Rep to the historic Bamenda launch|
According to Chongsi Joseph, of all the justice areas in Cameroon that need reform, juvenile justice reform was urgent given that the child was not just father of man but also that juvenile justice reform leads to a more open, just and democratic society. Although the initiative was Cameroon to Cameroon after being implemented in South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi, it was going to be more in-depth and more enclosing in Cameroon as they were going to benefit from the good practices and experiences of Nigeria and South Africa.
|Vincent Nji Ndumu, Co-applicant, Gov.De. Bamenda City Council|
After x-raying the existing legal instruments in Cameroon in relation to children’s rights and more especially children-in-conflict-with-the-law, the Executive Director of Chrapa was conclusive that although Cameroon has signed and ratified the convention on the rights of the child and its optional protocol, enacted protections in the 2005 Criminal Procedure Code, and, with the assistance of the European Union and UNICEF, trained and equipped some judicial and Ministry officials to protect the rights of children-in-conflict-with-the-law, major gaps still exist. It is because of these gaps that the project: Juvenile Justice Reforms: Diversion, Humane Incarceration and Reintegration of Children in Conflict with the law finds its relevance.
|Chongsi Joseph, CEO CHRAPA, fielding questions to the press|
The two year project which has as primary beneficiaries’ children-in-conflict-with-the-law has as primary objective to unify all None State Actors, NSA, and Local Authorities, LA, to transform children-in-conflict-with-the-law in Bamenda into productive citizens by giving them constructive skills and opportunities in the pre-trial, trial, incarceration, and post-incarceration stages of the judicial chain.
On the choice of Bamenda to implement this project, Mr Chongsi Joseph Ayeah said Bamenda has been known over the years to be receptive to new ideas and its activism in human rights has not been beaten by any other town or region in Cameroon. Going by this, he said Bamenda fulfilled all the conditions for the launch of the project and being a prototype other cities and regions would welcome the project after the Bamenda initiative.
|Applicant and Co-applicant in chat with EU Rep after successful launch|
In presenting the components of the project, the Program Officer for the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Jane Francis Mufua said the project had four major components, viz: Electronic Tracking System, ETS, Juvenile Justice Reform, Advocacy and Diversion. By Electronic Tracking System, ETS, is meant a computerized system where minors in conflict with the law are monitored at each stage of the judicial chain via a software system of information with the use of ombudspersons and other secret service providers. This serves as a check to abusers of the law in relation to children’s rights and enables prompt intervention for respect of the laid down procedures in dealing with Juveniles. By advocacy is meant the lobbying at all levels of state organs and policy makers for better collaboration between the government and the civil society, and possibly drafting of better policies in favour of the child’s rights.
|Advocacy material displayed|
This include the use of authorities like the Bamenda City Council, parliamentarians and senators to spearhead in their own spheres of intervention the protection of children-in-conflict-with-the-law. By diversion is meant the provision of alternative behavioural therapy to children-in-conflict-with-the-law rather than repression in public detention centres. This will entail the use of psychologists and social workers to work to diagnose the causes of deviant behavior in children as well as liaise with their families for possible reintegration. And finally by Juvenile Justice Reform is meant, the ensuring of strict implementation of laws and procedures put in place by the State of Cameroon in conformity with international instruments in the protection of the rights of the child. It targets law enforcement officials, the police, the gendarmes, state counsels and Examining Magistrates as well as Prison Officials.
|Chrapa Director presents keynote speech at event launch|
Jane Francis was the more convinced that once these four components are implemented with exactitude wayward children in Bamenda would be transformed into productive members of their communities by letting them opt out of the judicial chain prior to trial for constructive skills-building opportunities in Diversion programs. She was also confident that by creating housing alternatives to jail prior to trial and improving conditions for those in jail who do not qualify for non-custodial alternatives would greatly work to achieve the objectives of the 24 months project.
|Chrapa’s program Officer presents different project components|
To this, the European Union Representative, Ann Charlotte SALLMANN agrees and says all European Union’s efforts would be geared at helping Cameroon achieve those objectives. She thanked Chrapa for bringing up the initiative and for choosing viable partners to work with given that such work needs collective effort. She was optimistic the juvenile justice reform project would register great success as obtained in Georgia, South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi. She pledged the European Union’s support to civil society in Cameroon and was confident government would join hands with CSOs to see to it that Cameroon is more open, just and democratic.
|Jane Francis Mufua of Chrapa making the point|
While declaring launched the Juvenile Justice Reform program in Bamenda, Inspector General of Services in the North West Governor’s Office, Makoge Ivo said the government of Cameroon has done a lot in the domain of juvenile justice reform and given that no effort was enough, it welcomed that brought in by the collective of CSOs represented by CHRAPA. He pledged the support of the North West administration and thanked the European Union for always being there for Cameroon.
|EU’s Ann-Charlotte committing EU to innovating justice in Cameroon|