Sioka in hot water over jailed children

04 March 2021 | Ministries

JANA-MARI SMITH



WINDHOEK

The clock is ticking for child welfare minister Doreen Sioka who has less than a month to present a detailed action plan to establish child-friendly jails after the Office of the Ombudsman last year discovered at least 30 minors imprisoned alongside adult inmates around the country.

The urgent application brought to court in October 2020 accused Sioka of failing her duty to implement chapter five of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), which requires the ministry to ensure the establishment of child-friendly detention centres.

Advocate and Ombudsman John Walters’ founding affidavit pointed out that the CCPA expressly and tacitly outlaws the imprisonment of anyone aged 18 or younger in adult jails and prisons.

“This means that any detention of children at police holding cells is not only undesirable, but also unlawful.”

“Her failure to carry out her statutory duty is unlawful,” he added.

Walters underlined that it is the responsibility of the gender ministry to appoint or establish designated detention centres for children and the failure to do so is a violation of those children’s fundamental and constitutional rights and freedoms.

Moreover, he pointed out the ministry had failed to approve appropriate places of safety in lieu of its failure to establish them.

“This is even though the CCPA was promulgated five years ago and has been in operation for almost two years.”

Christmas gift

Just before Christmas, High Court judge Nate Ndauendapo ordered Sioka and her team to provide the court with an action plan detailing the steps they will take to finally implement her mandate.

Moreover, the police were instructed to ensure that jailed children are separated from adult inmates.

The police informed the Ombudsman in December that 34 male children were held in adult jails across the country as per their November records.

At that time, their ages ranged from 14 to 17.

Walters said “it is doubtful that any of them [imprisoned children] have been informed of their rights not to be detained in police holding cells”.

He cautioned that children in adult jails are subject to “harsh circumstances which can only have adverse effects on their development”.

Among the offences that landed the children behind bars are accusations of rape, murder, robbery, damage to property, assault, stock theft, arson and escape from custody.

One 16-year-old was in jail in Rundu for “violation of community services”.

A letter dated 21 December 2020 by the gender ministry stated that four minors were behind bars at that time and three had been transferred to Okatope holding cells in Onyaana. Two were 17-year-olds and one a 16-year-old. A 17-year-old was being held in Omaruru.

Constraints

Last December, Sioka informed the court that the implementation of the act concerning imprisoned juveniles is difficult due to financial and human resource constraints.

“The ministry is forced to prioritise key provisions in an environment where financial and human resources are limited.”

As an example, Sioka said the ministry only has 79 social workers to attend to a population of more than one million citizens, which is a ratio of one social worker per 13 000 children under 18.

She said the ministry manages to “soldier on” and has prioritised the implementation of several parts of the child protection act despite these hurdles.

Among these efforts, she claimed the ministry has allocated a farm where it “envisions to set up a facility that will serve as a child detention centre”.

She also said children and teenagers are sent to adult prisons on the order of magistrates “because there are no detention centres established yet”.

Sioka further excused the ministry's failure to respond to urgent letters from the Ombudsman, blaming their “high workload and overstretched staff members”.

The ministry did not to respond to a request on the matter by the time of going to print.

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