When a child is arrested for breaking the law, the following should happen:
- The child’s parents or guardians must be informed;
- The LC Secretary for Children Affairs who under the law is the Vice Chairperson of the LC must be notified;
- A child has a right to make a statement about what happened;
- The child’s parents or guardians should be present at the police station or post when the child is being interviewed;
- In the absence of parents or guardian and the LC Secretary for Children Affairs, the Probation, and Social Welfare Officer must be informed and be present during the interview of the child;
- The Police can settle the case without sending it to court;
- In case the Police do not settle the case, the child may be released on police bond free of charge;
- If the child is not given bond, he or she is kept in a police cell, she or he must be taken to court within twenty-four hours of arrest;
- Child offenders must not be accommodated in the same detention room with adult offenders; and
- A female child offender must be kept separately from males and must be under the care and supervision of a female officer.
Charging a Child
Charging a child refers to taking a child to court, reading the case to the child and asking him or her whether he or she accepts committing the crime . In case the child denies the offence, the child is put on trial. If the child accepts having committed the offence, the court will make an order.
Rights of a Child Accused of Committing an offence
An accused child is one who has been charged. The accused child has rights to:
- Be informed of the offense committed.
- Ask questions to witnesses testifying against him or her.
- Have parents or guardians present at the trial.
- Be treated humanely.
- Be released on bail by the court.
- Be present at the time of his or her trial.
- A speedy trial.
- Be represented by an advocate.
If the child or its parents cannot afford the services of a lawyer, some organizations offer free legal services. These include the Legal Aid Clinic of the Law Development Centre, FIDA, the Legal Aid Project of the Uganda Law Society and Public Defender.
According to the Children’s Act, the Local Government must provide legal services to the child.
Right to Bail for a Child Offender
An accused child has a right to bail. This means that the accused child is allowed by the court to go home and return to court on the stated date and time. Bail for children is free of charge. The child should obey the conditions of the bail. The court may require people to stand surety for the child (preferably the child’s parents or guardians) with valid identification and a letter of introduction from LCs. In the absence of sureties, the child may also be released on bail on his or her undertaking to obey the bail conditions. It is not only the parents or guardians or lawyer of a child who can ask for bail for the child. The accused child can also personally request the court for bail.
What is a Remand Home?
A remand home is a government institution where children whose cases are being investigated or who are under trial are kept before the conclusion of investigations or the trial. Children should not be remanded with adults. Children who are denied bail are remanded in such institutions. An example is Naguru Remand Home in Kampala, Mbale Remand Home, Fort-Portal Remand Home, kabale remand home and Gulu Remand Home. Remand homes also provide shelter and care for children in need of care and protection. They also provide shelter for homeless children referred to as lodgers.
Rights of a Child on Remand
Children on remand are entitled to enjoy their basic rights both as children and human beings except those that cannot be enjoyed because they are on remand. The rights children on remand can enjoy include:
- Female children should be separated from male children;
- A female child offender must be under the care and supervision of a female officer;
- A child on trial for a capital offense should not be on remand for more than six months;
- A child on trial for a non-capital offence should not be on remand for more than three months; and
- If the case is not concluded within the stated time, the court should release the child.
What Should Happen When a Child Has Been Sentenced to Imprisonment
When a case is proved against a child in a criminal trial and they are sentenced to imprisonment, he or she is taken to the National Rehabilitation Center. This however, can only be done after a Probation and Social Welfare Officer has written a social background report about the child.
The National Rehabilitation Centre is charged with the responsibility of rehabilitating the convicted children into useful citizens. Presently, the only National Rehabilitation Centre is found in Kampiringisa, along Kampala-Masaka road.
While in detention at the Centre, children undergo training in vocational skills. Children in the Center have a right to be visited by their parents and relatives. A child under six years should not be detained for more than three months while a child above sixteen years should not be detained for more than twelve months. However, in case a child was convicted of committing an offense punishable by death, the child is detained for not more than three years.
Note: Ministry of Gender on the SAUTI (Voice) runs a toll-free number 116 that one can call for all matters related to children. All probation services are free of charge.
Organizations that May Help with Matters Concerning Children
In the districts, there are other organizations that work to support children like Uganda Red-Cross, Save the Children, World Vision, and FIDA Uganda. Local and international organizations also provide advice. If they do not have programs that support children, they can refer you to another close-by organization that supports children.
Caution: It is important that when reporting a case to the Probation Office to inform the Probation Officer where else you have reported the case or which other institution you intend to report the matter to because when the same case is handled by different stakeholders and there is no proper coordination amongst the stakeholders it creates confusion and duplication of work.
Advice: It is important to attend community public meetings organized by the Judicial Service Commission or by the Probation Office where community dialogues and sensitization on all matters related to children and other family issues are discussed.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Question: Do we need to pay for services at remand homes?
Answer: No fees are required.
Question: Will my husband or partner be imprisoned in case I report him to the probation office?
Answer: It depends on the facts of the case at hand. The Probation Officer has the competence to determine if the matter should be handled by Police.
Question: At what age can a child be removed from its mother?
Answer: The law states that a child below the age of 7 years is supposed to stay with its mother.
Question: On what grounds would a court decide on the custody of a child?
Answer: While both parents are entitled to an equal sharing of custody Court will normally decide based on the best interest of the child. If the child is very young most times the mother will be given custody with visitation rights being given to the father. Other factors also influence custody like sanity, a record of responsibility.
Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development
George Street on Nakasero Hill in the Central Division of Kampala,
P. O. Box 7136, Kampala, Uganda.
Switchboard: 041-4 347854, 041-4 347855;
Website: https:// ww.mglsd.go.ug