July 11, 2023
The Human Rights Commission strongly condemns the detention of an eight-year-old boy at Matero Police Station in Lusaka on 11th July 2023 as unlawful and a gross violation of the right of the child.
Further, the Commission considers the detention of the child on an alleged offence of being in possession of a sharp instrument while fighting with another child as not only unlawful but also disproportionate, unreasonable, unnecessary and unjustified in a democratic Zambia that is anchored on the respect for the Rule of Law and Human Rights.
The detention of the boy was unlawful because under the Children’s Code Act, No. 12 of 2022, the age of criminal responsibility of a child is 12 years and above. A child below the age of 12 years is not criminally liable for any act or omission. Therefore, it was unlawful to detain an eight-year-old boy.
In any case, the Children’s Code Act provides that detaining a child should be the last resort. Therefore, if there were imperative circumstances warranting the restriction of the right to liberty of the child such as in the interest of his safety or the safety of another person, family or community, the child could have been kept at a place of safety as provided by the Children’s Code Act, and not detained in a police cell or station.
The Commission is calling upon the Police and other Law Enforcement Officers to always adhere to the provisions of the law whenever enforcing the law to avoid violating human rights.
Specifically, Law Enforcement Officers should endeavour to engage the Social Welfare Officers whenever dealing with a child suspected to have come into conflict or contact with the law to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Children’s Code Act.
The Commission acknowledges the reported positive efforts taken by the police to request the parents to begin a counselling session with a Child Protection Officer and a Social Welfare for the boy who has since been released.
However, the Commission hopes that the counselling will not only focus on the fact that the child had a sharp instrument but also on rehabilitating the child from the possible trauma he may have suffered as a result of being subjected to detention.
In addition, the Commission is calling on the police command and other investigative wings to get to the bottom of what could have motivated the officers to detain the boy, including thoroughly investigating the serious criminal allegation of seeking payment in exchange for the freedom of the boy.
Finally, the Commission is calling upon everyone to stop circulating or publishing any information or pictures likely to reveal the identity of the affected child because it is a criminal offence to do so. In addition, the child must be protected from further stigmatization and abuse and be supported to recover from the possible trauma of being detained.
The Commission wishes to caution that, according to section 46 (3 and 4) of the Children’s Code Act, any person who releases information that is likely to reveal the identity of a child in conflict or contact with the law, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding 300,000 penalty units [which is equivalent to K90,000] or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or to both.
The Commission is urging all stakeholders, particularly those mandated to enforce the law and to deliver justice, to adequately familiarise themselves with the provisions of the Children’s Code Act to enhance the protection of the rights of the child.
On its part, the Commission has so far conducted capacity building workshops on the Children’s Code Act for selected key stakeholders in the justice delivery sector in three provinces as part of a nationwide effort aimed at enhancing the capacities of the respective stakeholders to effectively meet their obligations to promote and protect the rights of a child.