There are hurdles to justice in every system.

There are hurdles to justice in every system. Those present in juvenile justice can include lack of judicial resources and/or capacity, non-compliance with legislation governing children, corruption of officials involved in the process, legal illiteracy,physical distance from judicial facilities, mental and/or psycho-social impairmentsand the list could go on. However, some of the hurdles that I find most disheartening are those which are wholly unexpected and make me stop dead in my tracks on this long distance run and stare at the hurdle in frustration.

When I visited one of the remand homes yesterday it was brought to my attention by one of the children that he was 11. Whether he is actually 11 is of course debatable since the majority of children in Uganda don't have birth certificates or registered births.

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It was alarming that this information hadn't been verified by social workers or social work interns at the facility during the months that the child had been in custody. I brought this issue to the attention of a social worker at the remand home who is a friend. Thankfully,he seemed just as concerned as I was that a child below the age of criminal responsibility was being held on remand against the provisions of the Children's Act which sets the age of accountability at 12 years.

It was equally concerning when I brought this matter to the attention of the warden and she explained to me that since the mother of the child was the complainant and she said he was 12, the child was obviously lying about his age. I offered her a few other logical roads that might lead one to the conclusion of why a complainant might claim that the accused had just attained the age of criminal responsibility. These suggestions we're laughed at.

Given my experience with juvenile cases in Uganda, I knew the drillwe would need to go to the police station to get a Police Form 3 which would allow a "police doctor" to perform a medical examination of the child to "verify" his age (through a dental examination).Despite the doubts of the warden, my social worker friend assigned a student intern to accompany the child and I to get the official verification and off we went.

At the police station, things went as smoothly as things can go for a young, female Mzungu accompanied by a young Ugandan woman and a child in a prison uniform. With the forms signed by the police officials and in hand, we ventured to the police doctor who in typical fashion had left for the day at 3pm.

In the car on the way back to the remand home, I asked the social work student what she thought we should do next. (Insert, long pause). I suggested we might see if the doctor was available the next day and she replied, "Yes, that's a good idea you should do that." No, no, no, I chuckled. I explained that these kinds of issues we're beyond what I am supposed to be helping with here (a little untrue but it helps to delineate responsibility and roles), but fall squarely within the duties of an aspiring social worker like herself.

I called today to follow up on the situation to find that the doctor was "out of office" all day today and won't be available until Friday. I again encouraged her to follow up and make an appointment with the doctor before he leaves the office for the weekend and I would look forward to hearing an update on Monday.

Sometimes it difficult to not rush in and "fix" the situation at hand by exhausting time, resources, and energy to just "get the job done." We certainly could have done that by visiting other clinics throughout Kampala to get the verification done. However, in the long term,that kind of an approach can be harmful to the sustainability of the program and the development of the system.

Hurdles to juvenile justice come in all forms. This week's hurdles they took the form of complacent social workers, inaccurate data on birth dates, and "unavailable" medical personnel. Ultimately, however seemingly obvious the solution, it is not my job to remove the hurdle. Instead, the challenge is to have the patience to link arms with another and practice jumping over the hurdle in order to continue the race.

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Posted in Law Post Date 09/24/2015






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