By Sani Idris
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has trained Police Officers in Kaduna on standard operating procedures (SOPs) for handling children who come in conflict with the law.
At the opening of a two-day dissemination and orientation workshop for the police officers on Monday in Kaduna,
UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in Kaduna, Dr Wilfred Mamah, said the SOPs revolve around children in conflict with the law.
He said that there is an overwhelming consensus across all relevant legal/normative frameworks that when children commit offences they should be treated differently.
“This is because of the children’s level of maturity and potentials for change,” he said.
He explained that the legal/normative consensus was that children who commit offences should not pass through the Adult Justice System but through what the law termed ‘Child Justice System’.
According to him, in Kaduna setting, the conversation on how police should handle children in such categories would surely benefit from a reflection on the level of vulnerability of children in the localities and how social and family challenges increase their likelihood to commit offences.
Mamah noted that in their recent work with the Ministry of Human Services on children in street situations, including Almajiri and adolescent girls, they were able to document 121,669 Almajiris and 108,755 out-of-school adolescent girls.
“These are just snapshots of the challenge of vulnerabilities that children confront.
“Many of these boys and girls lack parental support, access to basic existential needs, education, and skills. These deprivations often push them to criminality,” she said.
He, therefore, noted that it was important that as Police and other justice actors, they should develop strategies for handling cases of children and young persons in conflict with the law.
Speaking further, he said that the child rights act, which was passed into law in 2018, was aimed at protecting children who come in contact with the law either as victims or witnesses.
He, therefore, said the essence of the training was in recognition of the Police being a cardinal institution for implementation of the law (child rights).
“When children come in contact with the law, the first they come in contact with are the police, and the law stipulates that there should be a specialised unit for children.”
He said the workshop would assist the police in coming up with SOPs that would help them implement the law, which would prevent children who commit crimes from unnecessarily going to prisons, but to be addressed within the provisions of the child rights law.
“If the Police should see custody as the first response in addressing crime by children, it could be termed violence.”
Mamah said the procedures have been adopted at the national level, and now launched in Kaduna so that police officers, especially those at the gender unit, would know and have a common understanding of the children’s right which will be uppermost in their minds.
Earlier, the UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Kaduna, Dr Gerida Birukila, said children in contact with the law, whether in police or prosecutors’ departments, or the judiciary, required child-friendly procedures that are sensitive and responsive to their specific needs and circumstances.
Birukila, represented by Dr Idris Baba, said the child-friendly procedures include using language suitable for their age at all stages of the process, provision and utilisation of safe and comfortable child-friendly interviewing spaces.
She added that it also includes provision of support by appropriate adults, linkages with social welfare and other sector services, availability of trauma-informed interviews and testimony processes, removal of intimidating attire and appearances, among others.
Birukila, however, said that implementing child-friendly procedures in the child justice system, including the Nigenia Police Force, needed enhancement.
She said the 2014 Violence Against Children (VAC) survey has evidence that less than 6 per cent of children who experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation receive the services they need within the justice system.
“Implementing SOPs will require a workforce with the capacity to establish and implement child-friendly procedures.
“The approved SOPs offer a strategic framework to provide clear guidelines on procedures for providing services for children to facilitate timely access to justice, as justice delayed is justice denied,” she said.
Also, Justice Darius Khobo, the Chairman, Justice for Children Coordination Committee, Kaduna, said prior to the committee’s existence, offending children were sent to remand homes in Kaduna.
He wondered where children who come in contact with the law would be kept, noting that the only way out was to create a family court in the state which had reached logical conclusion.
He said that children are fragile, and must be handled differently from adult criminals, adding that interfacing with them needed special training.
Also, the State Coordinator, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Alhaji Zubairu Galadima-Soba, said value reorientation and rebirth are what is needed to achieve a sane society.
He urged leaders and the elderly at various levels of the society to be of good characters worthy of emulation by children and younger ones.
Earlier, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Musa Garba, said for the society to be devoid of child abuse, everyone must begin to ensure that his or her home is free from using other peoples children for labour.
“It is a condition in my house, no child will be brought as house help, the domestic help must be a matured person who willingly accepts to work for money and has decided not to go to school,” he said.
He directed all officers and men of the Command to desist from keeping children as house helps in the barracks or their personal houses.
He urged parents to always give birth to the number of children they can cater for, noting that children who are uncatered for are those causing problems and instruments of crime in the society.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that other stakeholders in the workshop included the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Nigerian Correctional Service, Kaduna Ministry of Human Services and Social Development, among others. (NAN)