Empowering Lawyers for Post Graduate Diploma in Child Justice

Through the support of United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF),

Through the support of United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF), Institute of Legal Practice and Development(ILPD), introduced a specialized program aimed at training lawyers to become experts in juvenile justice. This is the Post-graduate Diploma in Child Justice program. It has been nearly eight months since the launch of the program. It focuses on educating individuals who work with children such as investigators, prosecutors, judges, and children's rights organizations, about the legal protections for children, especially those accused or convicted of offending against the criminal law.

In the past, child-related legal issues were often handled generically; lacking the specialization needed to ensure children received fair and just treatment. This lack of specialization could lead to inefficiencies in addressing children's issues, potentially violating their rights. The Postgraduate Diploma in Child Justice comes timely to respond to this situation.

This program received approval from the Higher Education Council (HEC) in February 2023 and has kicked off with the training officials involved in child rights.

Dr. Sezirahiga Yves, the Rector of ILPD, emphasizes the importance of recognizing cases involving children and understanding that the legal process may inadvertently traumatize them due to their age and the correlating frailty. The program seeks to change attitudes and practices by actors whose work involves children so that they can provide specialized care and justice for the children who come into contact with the law in one capacity or another.

The program consists of various courses or modules that cover laws protecting children in various situations, whether they are suspects, convicts, or involved in parental separation cases.

The inaugural cohort included 35 participants, with 30 sponsored by the UNICEF and five self-funded individuals. Dr. Sezirahiga emphasizes that the program remains open to those interested in gaining expertise in child justice.

Additionally, ILPD offers short courses on juvenile justice that have so far benefitted around 820 employees from various institutions, including RIB, the NPPA, the National Child Development Agency (NCDA), workers at the district level, as well as people in private institutions like defense lawyers. These courses provide insight into understanding child rights and the developmental aspects of a child's mind, leading to more informed and compassionate treatment of children within the justice system.

In Rwanda, children of at least the age of 14 may be subjected to criminal investigations and possibly prosecution. However, the Child Justice program covers child protection all the way from conception until the age of 18, reflecting a comprehensive approach to child justice.

The circumstantial premises on the basis of which this program was established can be traced back to the period in 2008-2009 when the number of children in prisons was visibly on the rise. UNICEF, along with partners, began addressing this issue by seeking alternative ways to handle children convicted of crimes. They helped change the focus from incarceration to finding more suitable punishments that safeguard children's rights.

One initiative was the establishment of a Legal Aid Week for Children, dedicated to addressing children's cases and significantly reducing the number of incarcerated children. This led to the creation of the child justice policy and educational programs on laws related to child care.

UNICEF collaborated with ILPD to develop training programs. These specialized programs involved trainees spending one week per month of training at the ILPD Headquarters in Nyanza District from October 2021 to December 2022. Over 800 individuals from various sectors completed this program, leading to the conferment of the corresponding qualifications.

François Mugabo, an expert in child protection at UNICEF, emphasized the importance of these lessons in a bid to to ensuring that individuals working on children's issues are well-versed with the relevant laws. The training of the relevant actors is just one facet of broader efforts that also included renovating of the Nyagatare Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, a facility that was created to detain juvenile delinquents for the purpose of providing them secondary education and vocational trainings so that they are fit to be re-integrated to the society at large. The renovated center provides a child-friendly environment, offering space for play, study, meals, and rest, with a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Initiatives are ongoing to develop programs for monitoring and guiding children who have committed crimes. The goal is to address the root causes of their involvement in criminal activity, such as poor living conditions, rather than resorting to incarceration, which can potentially lead to involvement with criminals and subsequent involvement in crime.

In summary, ILPD and UNICEF have collaborated to develop a comprehensive program for training lawyers and professionals in child justice, emphasizing the importance of specialized care and protection for children within the legal system. This initiative reflects a broader shift towards understanding and addressing the unique needs and rights of children involved in legal processes.