By Martin Mawaya
Hundreds of children who thronged the St Daniels Rehabilitation Center in the high-density suburbs of Clifton Park in Gweru on Thursday this week, to participate in a public hearing on the proposed child justice bill, expressed mixed feelings over the draft law.
The Child Justice Bill is a government-sponsored draft that seeks to establish a stand-alone justice system for juveniles.
The main highlights of the bill seek to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7-12 years.
The draft law opposes a punitive justice system for children and provides a separate justice system that deals with children in conflict with the law.
However, unlike other public hearings dominated by adults, the children’s draft law attracted many children from different children’s centers in Gweru.
Makoni South Member of Parliament Honourable Misheck Mataranyika was chairing the committee while Mwenezi East legislator Master Makope led the interpretation of the provisions of the bill.
In his opening remarks, the Portfolio Committee of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hon Mataranyika said the committee was consulting the children so that they are involved and input on the proposed law.
“We are here to get your views so that you contribute to the ideal justice system. We want you to be involved and need your views to be heard” he said.
Contributing to the debate, one of the girls ( name withheld) said “ the courts’ processes for child offenders should be speeded up and if found guilty the child should not be severely punished, but must be given a lighter sentence.
“Children must be kept in a separate prison.
Another girl child concurred saying “ children must be rehabilitated not to be punished and parents should be involved if a child is found in conflict with the law”.
An 11-year-old boy from St Daniels Rehabilitation Center was with a different opinion and said “if a 12 years old and above committed a crime should be incarcerated as a way of deterrence”.
The public hearing was coordinated by Parliament in partnership with the Center for Applied Legal Research and UNICEF.