Legal practitioners have been challenged to advocate for children’s rights irrespective of the economic standing of the families of the children.
The call was made, last week, by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Isabelle Karihangabo, during a consultative meeting that brought together different stakeholders to discuss access to justice by juveniles.
Besides lawyers, the meeting in Kigali was also attended by government officials, prosecutors, police and members of the civil society.
“You must ensure that children get free access to justice be it those from rich or poor families. Free access to justice for juvenile offenders is enshrined in the country’s laws. It is therefore your duty to ensure this is respected,” said Karihangabo.
She said restorative justice that is aimed to correct the behaviour of the children should be prioritised.
Julien Kavaruganda, the president of Rwanda Bar Association, accused some lawyers of not doing enough even when they take on children’s cases, saying that others choose not to visit their clients in detention facilities to discuss and prepare the case, and only meet them in court.
Others actually do not turn up in court when their clients appear, he said, which is in violation of the rights of these children and a practice that must not be tolerated by any advocate.
However, Kavaruganda said there was optimism, as the number of lawyers in the country continues to grow and highlighted that their efforts to build internal capacity continue to yield.
Jean Claude Tumusifu, a child protection officer at National Children Commission, said legal fees should be waived on cases filed by minors, adding that in some cases, registrars still demand payment before they can record the cases.
Meanwhile, Chief Inspector of Police Alex Gasana, from the Criminal Investigations Department, said some parents must start shouldering the burden of the delinquency by their children, especially in cases of negligence.
He cited a case of parents who let their young children go to bars and return home drunk.
Francois Xavier Habakurama, a Kigali-based lawyer, said though there are specialized chambers for juveniles; some minors are still mistakenly taken to ordinary courtrooms, which he said is against the law.