KIAMBU, Kenya, Mar 11 – An estimated 12,000 children in the juvenile justice system are now safer from psychological, physical and sexual violence and neglect as a result of a three-year programme supported by the European Union to protect their rights and welfare. Children, particularly girls, are exposed to many forms of violence but the majority of cases go unnoticed, unaddressed or, at times, ignored by the criminal justice system.
The EU supported Juvenile Justice Programme was set up to help eliminate all forms of violence to children held by the state for protection or custodial care. Children held by the state for protection usually have been abandoned, or are victims of violence at home or due to extreme poverty. The majority of children in custodial care are held for minor crimes and are first time offenders.
EU Ambassador Stefano Dejak said: “Girls in the juvenile justice system are at high risk of serious violations of their human rights. Every child should be treated with dignity as a unique and valuable human being with an individual personality, distinct needs, interests and privacy. All children should have access to and benefit from national child protection systems that respect their rights.”
Ambassador Dejak was speaking during a visit to the government-owned Kirigiti Girls Rehabilitation Centre situated in Kirigiti, Kiambu County, which is one of the beneficiaries of the Juvenile Justice Programme. The programme contributed to eradicate multiple forms of violence to children across all stages of the National Juvenile Justice System (JJS) in Kenya from police custody, at Children’s Courts, statutory institutions, reintegration and during aftercare services.
More than 6,000 children have been directly supported to date through various ways, including counselling, education activities, reintegration, legal representation, diversion and economic empowerment. About 80 children with disabilities have been identified and supported. Two special units for children with special needs have been established in two GOK children rescue centres. There are about 3,000 girls in the juvenile justice system.
Ambassador Dejak emphasised: “Girls who do find themselves in contact with the justice system should not be stigmatised, punished and revictimised. They should receive the assistance and support they require. Through the Juvenile Justice Programme, the EU complements government efforts to promote compliance with international human rights obligations to protect girls from all forms of violence.” He said that this was in-line with the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of the child in all relevant EU policies and actions.
The Juvenile Justice Programme was implemented through CESVI and partners such as the Probation Department, CEFA, Legal Resources Foundation and the Child Welfare Society of Kenya between 2014 and 2016.
A major result of the project was a baseline survey on Violence against Children (VAC) across the Juvenile Justice System in Kenya released on July 20 last year. The report showed that that psychological, physical and sexual violence and various forms of neglect are still a big part of children’s lives across all stages of Kenya’s Justice System. The survey results were used to sensitise and lobby major Juvenile Justice GOK agencies, including Police, Probation, DCS, Judiciary and Prison departments. In particular, VAC eradication is currently being carried out through institution management involvement and children’s participation.
The Principle Secretary – State Department of Gender Affairs, Zeinab Hussein commended the EU for supporting the project saying it strengthened Juvenile Justice inter-agency coordination at National as well as county levels. “The vulnerability of girls makes it imperative to keep consolidating our efforts and partnerships to ensure that the juvenile justice systems are responsive to the situation of girls, sensitive to the challenges they face, and respectful of their rights.”
Hussein pledged to establish a mentorship programme for girls in rehabilitation institutions with the support of all women Permanent Secretaries.
She visited the rehabilitation school with the EU Ambassador as one of the activities to mark International Women’s Day. The vocational and life skills training component for the girls in Kirigiti is supported by the EU. Through the EU’s support, the girls enjoy two fully equipped tailoring and hairdressing workshops where they acquire hairdressing and tailoring skills. There are also EU trained counsellors who provide spiritual and psychological support to the children.
An alumni of the prestigious EU Erasmus Mundus Scholarship programme, Apiyo Okwiri who is also the Communities Coordinator at Ubuntunet Alliance urged girls at the Kirigiti Rehabilitation to work hard and dream big. “I benefited from this highly competitive scholarship as a woman and studied in two countries in Europe. You can also aspire for excellence in different aspects from your life and nothing will stop you from achieving your dreams including benefiting from this scholarship like I did.”
The Juvenile Justice Programme also promoted preventive reduction of child-family-community related violence through awareness creation, diversion and social reintegration in six pilot counties. It also supported and strengthened the JJ inter-agency coordination at National and County level and improving monitoring processes and structures through research and active participation of children.