The British High Commissioner to Malawi Simon Mustard on Thursday attended the official opening of the rehabilitated and refurbished Lilongwe Child Justice Court and, in his address, called for a commitment by various partners to make the Children’s Court fully staffed and functional to ensure access to quality justice for children in contact with the law as victims, witnesses and offenders.
The Lilongwe Child Justice Court was rehabilitated and refurbished by UNICEF with support from United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) to the tune of approximately MK126 million.
The building has two sections that deal with child protection and children in contact with the law.
In his remarks during the official opening of the court, Mustard asked for the facility to be fully functional and deliver its intended objectives within the ideal of having Child Justice Magistrates, who are well trained in the child Care, Protection and Justice Act, to be present not only in the major cities but also in all districts across Malawi.
“The UK has supported the rehabilitation of this facility and taking a tour of this building earlier this morning confirmed that it is what it is – a mere building. It is the discretion of the judiciary and other ministries to decide on the required number of skilled officers to ensure that this facility is operating at its maximum level,” said Mustard.
He emphasised the need for speedy conclusion of cases involving children, and encouraged the judiciary and other key stakeholders to continue to explore ways of fast tracking matters involving children in conflict with the law as well in cases where children are victims.
Mustard also expressed concern with cases involving children in ordinary courts where children are victims of offences perpetrated by adults and called upon the judiciary to protect child survivors of offences perpetrated by adults, and for officers that will run the facility to take utmost care to ensure that the children’s human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected and protected.
“Treat them in a manner that is consistent with their sense of dignity and worth. It is our sincere hope that you will apply, observe and respect the key principles that underpin Child Justice such as the best interest of the child, non-discrimination, fair and justice trial,” Mustard said.
For the past few years, the UK government has worked closely with UNICEF and the Government of Malawi to facilitate the establishment of a child protection system that is capable of dealing with all forms of violence, abuse, discrimination and neglect of vulnerable groups.
The UK is supporting capacity building of the criminal justice sector by training of professionals from police including police prosecutors, child protection and social welfare officers, and magistrates in the administration of juvenile justice. On support towards diversion, the UK is through UNICEF supporting diversion programmes in Zomba, Blantyre, Mangochi among others.