Child rights activists have strongly advocated for the government of Ghana to build at least one senior correctional centre and a shelter home home in each region of the country otherwise the current situation would continue to undermine the country’s juvenile justice system.
The lack of SCCs and Shelter Homes in nine of 10 of the country’s regions, they say, could have a negative impact on the justice system for victims of juvenile delinquency and forced marriages, human trafficking and domestic servitude.
The law of the country does not allow a child below 18 years who has been caught up with the law to be tried in any court of law except a juvenile tribunal. It does not also allow such a child to be kept in adult prisons except in a SCC which is child friendly and provide all the needs required for a child to continue with his/her education or engage in some vocational skills training till such a time that he/she is released.
But imagine a poor boy from Northern Ghana has committed a crime and has been incarcerated far away in Accra, it would be difficult for his parents to travel more than 600 kilometres just to go and pay him a visit.
Unfortunately, that is the prevailing situation in Ghana now. When children below 18 years are sentence by the juvenile tribunal they have to serve their sentences at the Accra SCC irrespective of which region the person was tried. All the SCCs across the country have been closed down except the Accra SCC.
Attending a one-day regional consultative forum on the justice for children organised by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) at Sagnarigu in the Northern Region, participants observed that even the mode of arrest of juveniles by the police, lack of knowledge of juvenile law among adults and children are serious gaps that ought to be addressed.
Accordingly, the participants also indicated that, Shelter Homes meant to keep children rescued from forced marriages, trafficking and domestic or sexual servitude among others are non-existent in the whole of Northern Ghana.
In the whole country, there is only one Shelter Home available and this is believed to have been I recently by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Children rescued from traffickers in other parts of the country are sometimes sent to live in private ‘shelters’ which should not be the case.
For the forum attendants, this does not speak well of Ghana’s child rights record especially so when she is among the first countries in the world to ratify many of the international charters and conventions adopted to protect children.
Northern Regional Director of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), Alhaji Abdul Razak Saani, believe Ghana has many beautiful laws that should be enforced to protect the rights of children but unfortunately, successive governments over the years have largely failed in that regard.
He said the resources allocated to the Departments of Social Welfare and Community Development, Legal Aid Scheme, NCCE, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice and others to carry out their mandate as state institutions are so meagre and cannot adequately do the work.
The one-day forum organised by LRC with funding from the European Union sought to build synergies and ensure massive discourse on strategies that would promote an enhanced child justice system within the concept of the justice for children policy and relevant legislation.
It also sought to review existing child justice legislative policy and institutional frameworks, identify gaps in these frameworks and propose amendments to legislation or policy reforms for promotion and protection of children who are in conflict and contact with the law
Private legal practitioner, Clarke Noyoru who took participants through a presentation on various legislative, policy and institutional gaps on justice for children, contended that Ghana has good laws that can ensure the rights of children are adequately protected, but also indicated that some of the laws need some amendment in order to conform to the prevailing situation.
“There’s an issue related to police medical forms being given to victims of rape or defilement which requires that the victims themselves pay for such medical consultation. This is not right because it means that if the victim is unable to pay for the consultation she can’t be examined in order for the police to determine whether indeed she was raped or defiled. This aspect of the law needs amendment so that government Itself can take up the cost of medical examination of victims”, he explained.