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Take toddlers out of prison and devolve justice system
Unemployed People's Association (ZUPA)
February 10, 2012
revelations by Zimbabwe's Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs
that some 30 toddlers are incarcerated with their mothers in Zimbabwe's
squalid prisons calls for urgent remedial intervention.
Gutu is reported to have said that breastfeeding female prisoners
were forced to share crowded cells with their babies and toddlers
due to lack of capacity in the Ministry of Social Services to provide
a service for these children.
will recall reports in recent times of how terrible the conditions
in Zimbabwean prisons are with no adequate sanitation, hygiene and
has written about the challenges that our social services have in
delivering. Given how difficult it is for Zimbabwe's Government
of National Unity (GNU) to collect credible national statistics,
I believe Zimbabweans and the international organisation working
in child protection should immediately commission an extensive study
into what is going on.
Let us as a
responsible country establish how many children are kept in these
trying prison conditions simple because their mothers are serving
sentences. What system is used to identify other relative or foster
parents who can provide a service for these children in decent homes?
What damage are we as a country doing to these innocent children
who are growing up in prisons? Should the Social Services Ministry
not be allocating part of the child protection money from the Consolidated
Appeals programme to a service for these children?
Part of the
solution in the meantime may require that the breastfeeding women
prisoners serve their sentences in prisons in their areas of origin
to enable relatives to assist. It is called devolution. Zimbabwe
is a country in crisis, in which case the communities have to be
encouraged to participate in decision making and crafting solutions.
may have solutions Government needs. That is why last week, I called
for a national debate and consultation on ritual murders of children
which should be done by the Ministry of Social Welfare. We cannot
as a country allow failures in child protection.
I now hear that
Zimbabwe Minister of Water, Sipepa Nkomo is approaching chiefs in
areas where dam construction has been delayed by "mermaids."
"We employed whites thinking they will not be affected by
the mermaids but even the white people we employed are now saying
they will not be going back there," Minister Sipepa is reported
to have said.
My Gwanda roots,
my Lemba roots and my youth may not qualify me to comment on "mermaids"
stopping dam constructions in Mashonaland. I thought mermaids live
in water and they should instead call a pool party and celebrate
construction of a bigger pond in their area of residence. Something
deep down me still tempts me to take this as one of those myths
that we are all made to believe. I would rather be a doubting Thomas.
Last week, I
also appealed to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs to consider
made at the 12th meeting of United Nations Human Rights Council
Universal Periodic Review on Zimbabwe in October 2011, by Brazil,
Slovakia, Slovenia and Indonesia among others to establish specialist
juvenile justice system and raise the age of criminal responsibility
from the current 7 years old to at least 12 years old in line with
the Convention of the Right to the Child.
ZUPA has agreed
to work on a policy document on how a juvenile justice system can
be set up in Zimbabwe. I hope organisations working for the protection
of children rights can take on this project to ensure that our children
have their rights protected. I am especially interested in ensuring
that the children remain continue with quality education while in
custody. I would join any campaign for protection of the vulnerable
member of our society.
The review of
the juvenile justice system or in the case of Zimbabwe, its establishment
needs dedicated personnel to make it work. This involves those from
education, recreational and development, health services, social
services and more importantly magistracy. In June 2010 the Magistracy
in Zimbabwe was removed from the responsibility of the Public Service
Commission and became a baby of the Judicial Service Commission
(JSC), following the coming into effect of the Judicial
Service Act (chapter 7:18). I am made to understand that the
JSC is from April moving a number of magistrates around from one
end of the country to the other.
When I raised
Minister Sipepa Nkomo's mermaid views, I alluded to the fact
that as a Lemba from Gwanda, there are Shona cultural issues I may
struggle to understand or accept. A visit to chief Nhlamba in Gwanda
would be a walk in the park for me.
is for most criminal cases, the first point of entry. I therefore
take the view that if the issues of child protection and the ritualistic
challenges of some of the crimes are to be handled efficiently by
the law, then the magistrate herself or himself must be a member
of that community. In the case of breastfeeding mothers, I contend
that the issues of bail and mitigation may be easier for one that
understands that culture.
The moving and
transferring of magistrates should follow devolution. It would be
bad for justice if a Venda magistrate is transferred to Murambinda
and a Korekore magistrate transferred to Plumtree where they will
not understand the culture and the language.
in economic crisis. I am left puzzled why we should spend money
on interpreters in this country when we have enough magistrates
who originate from the areas who can be deployed there. This will
also cut on the need to accommodate them and given them these away
from home allowances.
I hope the JSC
will consider the redeployments they are planning for April. There
is enough time to consider these views. It would be a bonus if the
JSC and the Ministry of Justice were to undertake an evaluation
of the challenges of deploying a Korekore to Plumtree or a Manyika
While at that,
the police may also consider devolving the deployments for the same
reasons of language and understanding of the culture. Many crimes
are going through the net due to barriers originating from failure
to effect this simple and reasonable aspect of devolution.
I am convinced
if a police officer is deployed in his area of origin, the likelihood
of that officer abusing his powers or the rights of the community
I also hope
those in charge of prisons and social services would immediately
set in motion, remedial action to take toddlers incarcerated with
their mothers out of the prisons in the best interest of the children.
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