Zambia’s age of criminal responsibility must be revised from eight to 14 in order to improve Zambia’s ratings when it comes to child justice, says Parliamentary Committee on Youth, Sports and Child Matters chairperson Chinga Miyutu.

Miyutu, who is also Kalabo Central UPND member of parliament, said this when he submitted for adoption his committee’s report on the Report of the Auditor-General on the Juvenile Justice System in Zambia for the period 2014 to 2017 for the 4th session of the 12th National Assembly laid on the table of the House on Tuesday, 19th November 2019.

In his submission to the House, Miyutu said his committee was shocked and disappointed that Zambia was ranked among the bottom nine least child friendly countries in Africa in terms of the welfare of juvenile offenders.

“Mr Speaker, the committee is shocked and disappointed that Zambia is ranked among the bottom nine least child friendly countries at number 51 out of the 52 African countries by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) in its African report on child wellbeing of 2018. In 2018, Zambia was ranked 36th on the child friendliness index and has moved down 12 places over the last five years. The committee is sad to learn that the major cause of this poor ranking is the low minimum age of criminal responsibility which pegged at eight years in Zambia’s legal framework. The committee strongly recommends that the minimum age of responsibility must be revised in line with the world’s standard to at least 14 years of age,” Miyutu said.

“The Auditor General conducted a performance audit on the juvenile justice system during the period 2017 to 2018. The objective of the audit was to assess whether the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, the Zambia Police Service, the Zambia Correctional Service and the judiciary had put in place measures to support the welfare and rehabilitation of juveniles that come into conflict with the law. Sir, let me hasten to state that almost all the stakeholders that appeared before the committee affirmed that the findings of the Auditor General were correct. In this regard, allow me to mention a few issues of concern to the committee. The committee is deeply concerned that the laws governing child justice in the country are archaic. It is the committee’s considered view that these laws need to be reformed to bring them in tandem with the current international standards regarding juvenile justice.”

In responding to the concerns raised by the committee, Kampyongo acknowledged the need to revisit the piece of legislation that governs the management of juvenile offenders.

“This government of the Patriotic Front Mr Speaker has committed itself in ensuring that from the law enforcement perspective and from the corrective correction service, we change the way we manage the affairs of the juvenile offenders. And so if you look at the infrastructure that we are providing under the Zambia Police Service, we are not approving any infrastructure that does not cater for juvenile offenders in terms of holding cells for both male and female. And indeed the child protection unit which the chairperson referred to is equally getting capacitated in order to ensure that when these children are made to go through the justice system, age given the necessary support including that of bringing their parents or guardians on hold. But also that depends on the provision of the law. And so you are right when you say that we need to revisit this piece of legislation on management of the juvenile offenders,” said Kampyongo.

“With regard to the transporting of juveniles from their holding places or from the remand, the police tried to make sure that they provide space meant for the children separate from the adult offenders. And we are in the process of getting more vehicles [but] of course it has been a challenge. We haven’t had enough but are looking at the possibility of getting more vehicles so that may be one truck could be specifically given to the juvenile offenders.”

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Given Lubinda said government was doing its best to provide a conducive environment for inmates.

“The government is doing the best it can to provide conducive environment for the people. Apart from that, this government is very concerned about the congestion in correctional facilities. And at the moment we are looking at enforcing the provision for community sentencing. This is all an attempt to make sure that the correctional facilities are decongested,” he said.

Lubinda also explained what was being done to mitigate loss of documents by the Judiciary.

“Mr Speaker, the concern of information flow and the loss of documents in the judiciary does not only affect child offenders, it affects the total justice delivery system. But I am glad to inform you sir that my ladyship the Chief Justice and her team are paying premium to this matter. In September, it was recorded that the Judiciary entered into a memorandum of understanding with the National State Court System of the United States of America through which the US is going to provide software at a cost of US $10 million to the Zambian Judiciary with the intention of enhancing electronic case flow management system in the Judiciary. Once that is done, the thing of documents going missing, court processes going missing will be a thing of the past. I already indicated Mr Speaker that more than 160, 000 documents had already been scanned and put on a computer dada-base. All this is to improve the information and communication systems within the judiciary,” said Lubinda.

And Lubinda assured the House that his ministry would implement the report.