Wednesday, 15 January 2014 12:47

BURKINA FASO: Avoid children going to prison; an obligation to be put into practice

14 January 2014 - In Burkina Faso, delinquent juveniles are usually given prison sentences although, according to the Convention of Child Rights, depriving a minor of his liberty should be a measure of last resort and limited to exceptional cases.

Terre des hommes has been working since 2010 to support the State in setting up alternative measures to imprisonment : educational measures such as community service or placement in a centre or a host family to provide a better future for the youngsters and to avoid second offences. 60 officers and personnel from the judicial police, the first authorities with whom the delinquent comes in contact, have recently attended a training course on putting into practice diversion measures, in particular penal mediation. This workshop was opened by the Minister of Justice of Burkina Faso, who thus showed his commitment to having restorative juvenile justice effectively applied to benefit minors in conflict with the law.

For the past few years, penal statistics in Burkina Faso have shown that juvenile delinquency is on the increase and has reached worrying proportions. Unfortunately, the economic and social factors that lead youngsters to commit offences remain solidly rooted in Burkina Faso society; these are poverty, violence, a lack of education, the breakdown of the family unit, migration and child trafficking. In the light of such factors that predispose minors to acts of delinquency, Terre des hommes, in partnership with UNICEF, is helping the Burkina Faso state in its implementation of an effective restorative justice through applying alternative measures to imprisonment for minors.

However, since the project was launched, the promotion of these measures has seen too little involvement by the judicial police, although some of these measures should already start in the police phase. Last 24th / 25th October was an occasion for Terre des hommes to bring together over 60 officers and personnel from the judicial police, so they could be given training on their role in dealing with minors in conflict with the law; their involvement in the implementation of measures of diversion and their collaboration with social services.

At the opening ceremony, David Kerespars, head of the Tdh delegation in Burkina Faso, stood up for the position of Tdh, and also explained the obligations of the state: “The promotion of these measures is founded on several reasons, amongst which is our obligation to defend the best interests of a minor in conflict with the law. The best interest of the child is not an idealistic humanitarian concept, but a legal instrument aimed at ensuring a child’s welfare.” The restorative juvenile justice promoted by Tdh sees not only that this criterion is fully met at the moment when a decision, including a court decision, is taken concerning a child, but it should also avoid any stigmatization that passes out of the gates of the prison world. This type of justice takes the victim into consideration, involves the community and deals effectively with the causes of the criminal behaviour. Alternative measures to imprisonment notably increase the youngsters’ chances of becoming productive adults and playing constructive roles in society.

The Minister of Justice, Dramane Yameogo, shared his full support with the professionals gathered at this workshop: “If the interest in and the advantages of alternative measures to prison are not contradicted; if the alternative measures to imprisonment make it possible to fight against the overcrowding in the prisons – a real problem for our penal system; if the alternative measures to imprisonment encourage the social reintegration of delinquents and reduce second offences, then this is an opportunity for us to offer our hands to these youngsters who expect much from us, and ask for only one thing: a chance to get onto the right path.”

Up to date, thanks to the interventions of Tdh, nearly 200 youngsters have been able to profit from alternative measures and leave their places of detention. Some of them have rejoined their families; others have been helped to get job training or schooling, and have so reaped the benefit of a new chance for the future.

Interview with the Minister of Justice, Burkina Faso, Dramane Yameogo.

What is the current position of juvenile justice in Burkina Faso?

Juvenile justice in Burkina Faso is a priority sector for the government. At the level of the Ministry of Justice, we have set up courts for children, of which 3 others were added this year, bringing the number up to five. We believe that this sector merits special attention so that we can cope with juvenile delinquency, as crime relating to minors damages society; but it is also a crime that, if not controlled, will increase and become intensified as the youngster grows up. Burkina Faso gives priority to the sector in its national justice policy and is working to control it so that this juvenile justice can be incorporated in circumstances in keeping with our international commitments and our political option of giving priority to all sectors to guarantee a society at peace now and in the future.

Tdh has been working since 2010 to support juvenile justice in Ouagadougou, Bobo and Tougan. Do you see changes in the system of justice for minors in these three cities since then, in comparison with preceding years and with other parts of the country?

Yes, in Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso and Tougan, this phenomenon is well enough under control and we believe this is mainly due to the vision of our government and the support of partners like Tdh. The seminar organized today by Tdh is for the essential players in the penal chain, the officers and personnel of the judicial police. When these people go back well-equipped on the methods and behaviour to use with the juvenile delinquent appearing before them, they can have a real impact on dealing better with minors, on education, as this form of justice has a restorative approach, i.e. educational, for the youngster. The action of Tdh has had a positive effect on the rate of juvenile delinquency in the places of its intervention.

Today, police officers, gendarmes and prosecutors are attending a training course on alternative measures to imprisonment for juvenile delinquents. What are the main difficulties for the effective implementation of such measures?

The main difficulties to setting up these measures involve several phenomena. First of all, one should recognize that a minor in conflict with the law is a young person who has infringed the rule of law. When such a rule is infringed in society, there is a breakdown, a victim and the public who assess it. Generally, people are used to seeing that when there has been a breach of the law, the logical consequence is imprisonment, without regard to the weakness of the perpetrator, or presumed perpetrator, of the offence. And if this is not done in practice, it is not uncommon for some people to interpret this as amounting to a denial of justice. There is also the social weight that we should have appropriate surroundings for the implementation of these alternative measures to imprisonment. For example detention centres, perhaps those with open custody, where we could look after minors in conflict with the law and try to give them job training and civic and legal education so that they can understand that it is in their interest to get free of this path that leads to delinquency, and to become socially reintegrated. If these structures are strengthened and gradually implanted in Burkina Faso, it will contribute to making it possible to implement this policy for restorative juvenile justice.

The present structures are often reluctant to take in young delinquents, and this can hinder the implementation of alternative measures. Have you planned anything to influence these organizations so that the minors really can go to them and carry out the alternative measures?

What is feasible is a form of awareness-making for the players so that they realize it is not a favour we are doing out of sentiment. It is a strategy from a rational point of view: the minor is a weak person, a person who is quickly influenced. We need specific justice to avoid his getting used to far worse delinquency. There are also international commitments which Burkina Faso has made and which must be fulfilled. Consequently, the players should be strengthened by the idea that we have to work towards the implementation of this policy.

Source: Terre des hommes / Child Relief

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