Zvamaida Murwira and Wallace Ruzvidzo
Government intends to raise criminal responsibility of children from seven years up to 10 as well as prevent young offenders from the formal criminal justice system to other restorative measures, a Cabinet minister has said.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said this will be contained in the draft of the Child Justice Bill which is already being crafted.
He said crafting of the Bill, which will see the establishment of the child justice courts, started after completion of consultation of intended legal framework.
Minister Ziyambi said this in Harare last week during the launch the national pre-trial diversion programme, a systematic process of diverting children in conflict with the law from the mainstream judicial system to other rehabilitative methods.
He said the PTD resonated with Section 81 of the Constitution which prescribed the best interest of the child principle coupled with the Bill of Rights that enshrined children’s rights which stipulated that young offenders should be detained as a last resort.
“Rightfully so, these provisions will be given effect through the Child Justice Bill which has been consulted upon. The Bill sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 10 years, establishes a mechanism of dealing with children who lack criminal capacity, establishes child justice courts, enhances diversion of children in conflict with the law from the formal criminal justice system, promotes the best interests of the child and prevents child delinquency through restorative justice,” said Minister Ziyambi.
The proposed Act, said Minister Ziyambi, will also ensure training of personnel who play a crucial role in the child justice system.
“Drafting of this Bill is underway with consultations already having been conducted across the country. You will agree with me that once the Bill becomes law, the objectives of diversion which include preventing future criminal activity among young offenders by diverting them from traditional processing into community supervision and services, and saving prosecutive and judicial resources for concentration on major cases will be achieved,” said Minister Ziyambi.
Before the Bill, said Minister Ziyambi, the programme has been drawing its authority from various pieces of legislation, policy documents such as PTD guidelines as well as the powers by the Prosecutor-General to decline prosecuting cases.
Secretary for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mrs Virginia Mabiza said the PTD programme commenced as a pilot project launched in 2009 and had yielded positive results that had helped young offenders from the mainstream criminal justice system.
“The programme is an important element of the justice sector because of the need to help rehabilitate young offenders without acquiring a criminal record or being incarcerated as well as averting congestion of our courts and prison facilities,” said Mrs Mabiza.
High Court judge Justice Alphas Chitakunye, who is also chairperson of the PTD steering committee, said the PTD ought to be undertaken holistically and should benefit all children even in the most remote of areas.
“It is our view that all Zimbabweans children in conflict of the law should be accorded a second chance without placing a criminal record on them,” said Justice Chitakunye.
Unicef country representative Mrs Laylee Moshiri said the objective of the world body is to provide legal protection to all children that include legal services, proper treatment and doing away with punitive measures.
She said Unicef will continue providing developmental support to Government on the PTD programme and yesterday the world body donated furniture to be used for the expansion of the programme.