Medeshi Oct 24, 2008
Teenagers released from prison in Somaliland
NAIROBI, The UN children's fund, UNICEF, said on Friday that 104 teenagers aged 15 to 18 have been released from eight prisons in Somaliland, northwestern Somalia, following the enactment of the new Juvenile Justice Law for Somaliland in April 2008.
UNICEF Representative for Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen welcomed the presidential decree and the initiatives taken by the Somaliland authorities, saying the action would lead to a fair legal system.
"These actions will ensure a fair justice legal system for children and build greater awareness of child rights and the need for children to be protected when they come in contact with the law," Balslev-Olesen said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
The Juvenile Justice Law has introduced well founded provisions to protect the rights of children in legal proceedings.
These include an increase in the age of criminal responsibility to 15 years and the stipulation that imprisonment of children should be as a measure of last resort for the shortest possible period.
Under a presidential decree pardon, announced to commemorate Eid Al Fitr, the children were released on Tuesday into the care of their communities. Many had been imprisoned on charges such as truancy, vagrancy or Asi Al-Walidain (disobedience to parents).
According to UNICEF, before their release, the children were evaluated and given two days of individual counseling and psycho social support.
"Upon release, services to reintegrate the children were immediately provided by the Justice for Children Project, a joint program between UNICEF and the UNDP Rule of Law and Security (ROLS) Program," the statement said.
UNDP's ROLS Program Manager Alejandro said implementation of the ROLS Justice for Children Project had helped to strengthen the judiciary, law enforcement and human rights in Somaliland.
"The new Juvenile Justice Law takes precedence over all other laws relating to children in conflict with the law and we expect its provisions -- such as community mechanisms to address juvenile misbehavior -- to be used more frequently to prevent the imprisonment of children," he said.
UNICEF said the children were provided with clothing, food allowances and transport back to their communities. Those without parents will be further supported to enrol in vocational programs.
Other activities will include the mobilization of communities to create protective environments to which the children can return: where they are not stigmatized but supported to become responsible and productive citizens.
Community child protection committees will also support education of children through enrolment in formal and non-formal education programs for children who have come into contact with the law.