Research on girls in conflict with the law in Uganda

Prisoners Soroti EHarrop 2014 cropped10 May 2016: As Gender Researcher and Advisor for the NGO Chance for Childhood, I am currently researching girls’ experiences and needs while in contact with the criminal and informal justice systems in Uganda.

The research comprises a combination of desk research and reviews of testimonies from Chance for Childhood beneficiaries.

Chance for Childhood has been working in Patongo, Northern Uganda, since 2008. On average 100 children are imprisoned each year in Patongo prison, and often subjected to sexual and physical violence. Children might be arrested because they have stolen food in order to survive.

The Right2Change project is helping to divert children out of prison and into more suitable rehabilitation methods such as cautions or community service, coupled with support from trained social workers.

International legal frameworks demand that juvenile justice systems should be purely directed at rehabilitation and reintegration. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment 10 (2007) on children’s rights in juvenile justice for example, states that “the traditional objectives of criminal justice, such as repression/retribution, must give way to rehabilitation and restorative justice objectives in dealing with child offenders”.

These legal frameworks also place emphasis on the unique risks and vulnerabilities faced by girls. For example the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) Guidelines on Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime (2005) recognise “that girls are particularly vulnerable and may face discrimination at all stages of the justice system”.

This discrimination could include for example blaming the victim for her own rape, or being sexually assaulted by the Police when reporting a crime. However other factors are emerging through the research.

The aim is to review the project data collection tools to ensure their relevance and appropriateness to girls, and to make recommendations which can be used to inform the project design.

This is an important piece of work because while there are a huge amount of resources on children in conflict with the law generally, both in Uganda and elsewhere, there is surprisingly little on the situation of girls.

Photo: Prisoners undertake manual labour on a roadside in Soroti, Eastern Uganda © Elizabeth Harrop 2014

Liberty & Humanity