A week ago I found myself at the centre of a hectic and dreadful situation. I heard news that two people suspected of being under the age of 18 years, had been remanded in an adult prison, following a ruling by the district court. The prison authorities feared associating offending children with adult inmates, as it is not acceptable under the law. The prison authority contacted me about receiving committal warranties from the district court for the two people who looked physically more like children, but their ages were recorded as adults.
As a social welfare officer I immediately stepped up to the task. I wrote a letter the same day to the district magistrate requesting an inquiry on the ages of the offenders. Having received the letter, the magistrate formed a five person team, including myself to investigate the matter. We interviewed the offenders themselves, the headmistress of the primary school they had attended, and spoke with their relatives.
In Tanzania a child cannot be imprisoned no matter what the seriousness of the offence is, but they can be placed in a juvenile detention centre, and then released into the community upon satisfaction that they will not cause further harm. Child offenders are usually given lenient sentences serving community service orders under the supervision of a social welfare officer.
The shocking revelation that the team revealed was that the offenders were children aged 14 and 15 respectively. Their ages had been wrongly but purposefully recorded as a result of a forced confession by the police. They had been subjected to torture and intimidation to hide their identities as children, so that maximum sentence could be imposed on them.
I personally recommended to the district magistrate to issue a transfer order of the children to a juvenile detention centre. Luckily, they were taken to the detention center following a court order.
I wanted to share this with you because our fight for the rights and needs of children are boundless, provided we know and work within the parameters and procedures governed by law.
Thadei is a Social Worker in the Pangani District of Tanzania. He is committed to creating a fair child protection/human rights system. If members know of any organisation that might offer funding for Thadei to study an MA in International Human Rights, please contact me. Thank you, John Diamond.