By Garmonyou Wilson
The Acting Minister of Justice, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, says prioritizing an effective child justice system, separate from the adult criminal justice system is a key part of strengthening the rule of law and increasing equitable access to justice.
Speaking at a program marking the official launch of the Juvenile Diversion Guidelines at the Luyken Guest House in the Oldest Congo Town, Acting Justice Minister Sannoh said that juveniles are a vulnerable group and that the government of Liberia was not only doing its part due to international obligations but it is what is right.
He stated further that the guidelines are to ensure that children do not go to detention, but are rather rehabilitated.
The Child Justice Section of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was established in 2010 to promote the development, and effective interventions for juveniles in conflict with the law and to ensure restorative justice with respect to juvenile offenders.
In keeping with its mandate the Section implements a Diversion program which was initiated as a pilot in Montserrado and Bong Counties, and funded by the Australian government through UNDP.
The Diversion program seeks to channel children who come in conflict with the law away from formal judicial proceedings and detention by placing them in alternative programs which utilize a variety of interventions, including case management, psychosocial counseling, community service, apprenticeships and referrals for vocational skills training.
The Diversion Guidelines were developed and completed to provide standardized and uniform procedures for child justice actors dealing with cases involving children who come in conflict with the law.
Speaking also during the launching program, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh said that the courts are appreciative of the guidelines, especially how they would impact the judiciary.
She then called on Magistrates from the leeward counties to know the guidelines as there are no juvenile courts in the leeward counties because Liberia has only one court for juveniles in Monrovia.
She then emphasized to Magistrates who also attended the launching to be mindful of the guidelines as any juvenile that comes before them is not the common criminal.
The Country Representative for the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) in Liberia, Sheldon Yett said that many people feel that diverting child offenders does not mean that they are not being punished. He added that diversion reduces stigma and it’s more cost efficient and reduces those that would become repeat offenders.
For her part, the head of the Child Justice Section, Cllr. Soni Williams said it is their hope that the Guidelines will be utilized by all relevant child justice actors as diversion is put into practice as a viable alternative to the formal judicial process and pre and post-trial detention.