Children’s experiences in court: A study of children in conflict with the law at Kampala High Court
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This study sought to investigate the experiences of children in conflict with the law at the High Court in Kampala and it had four (4) specific objectives, namely; the perceptions of children towards the court process, how the rights of the child are upheld in the court room, the social welfare provisions in court, how child friendly the court room is and the challenges children face during the juvenile court process. The methodology used for this study was qualitative in nature and it was used to describe the lived experiences of children in conflict with the law in the juvenile court room and the juvenile process in its entirety. Data was collected through participatory observation and from in depth interviews with children who had capital offences and their cases were at the high court for hearing. It was also collected from key informants that is, the lawyer, the Probation and Social Welfare Officer and a parent of one the juveniles. The study has shown that the juvenile court upholds the right of the child and it follows all the legal procedures that are set in the numerous existing laws that govern how a child in conflict with the law should be treated in court for example establishing the age of the child before any court procedures and ensuring their right to privacy. The children’s perceptions towards the court process varied from child to child with most of them having mixed feelings towards the process. Some of the children found the process worthwhile for their transformation while others found the process long since their parents were not able to attend the court trials. The study also established that even with limited resources, the juvenile court room is made child friendly as children were not made to stand in the dock and the trial judge was not dressed as he normally should and this was because they didn’t want to create an intimidating environment for the children. In terms of the social welfare, the Probation and Social Welfare officers were always present during the court trials and they provided the social welfare reports. Most of the challenges that children faced were being in detention for long periods of time and this were both at the various police stations where some children reported that they were being beaten and locked in adult cells and the children also reported that they were at Naguru Remand Home for many months with some reporting that they were on remand for seven months. The other challenge was in form of fear for being taken back on remand and their parents not showing up for the court trial to stand as sureties. The findings have a number of important implications and these include the government making sure that parents of children in conflict with the law are sensitized about the need of attending court trials and putting in place programs that reinitiate the children back into the community to prevent them from falling into crime again. The judicial procedures should be maintained however there is need to focus on the education of the police officers about child protection and putting in place cells where children can be held instead of locking them up with adults.