Our Work with Children in Uganda

Our Work with Children in Uganda

Last week the Legal Aid Clinic in Luzira Maximum Security Prison scored another triumph when it helped secure the release of several juveniles from incarceration within that facility.

Released from Luzira Maximum Security Prison, Uganda

During the Court of Appeal Juvenile Session, last month, three young men were acquitted of charges brought against them, having previously been sentenced - as adults - to 32 years each. However, their sentences were deemed illegal as they were under the age of 18 at the time that the offence was allegedly committed. Moreover, the Court of Appeal found no incriminating evidence on the file and acquitted them of the charges. They went home that same day. They had spent more than 4 years in prison.

Earlier in the week six more young men were either acquitted or released on unconditional bail. In these cases, either documentation was missing at the time of their trial or sentencing was illegal, as the accused was a minor.

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Prison Paralegals Providing Vital Legal Services

Each of these releases were possible due to the work of our paralegals at the Legal Aid Clinic inside Luzira. APP opened the Clinic in July 2018, in what the Officer in Charge then described as a “peculiar environment” to be providing legal services. We couldn’t do the work we do without working with the Uganda Prisons Service and were honoured to be recognised with The JLOS Partnership and Collaboration Award (2018) for our “contribution to prisoner reform and rehabilitation of former prisoners into responsible citizens” by The Justice, Law and Order Sector.

Uganda’s prisons, like others around the world, are overcrowded. APP works with prisoners and prison staff, training them to become paralegals and offers a legal education via the University of London distance learning programme. Together with APP staff and volunteers they also provide legal awareness sessions which are often the first opportunity a prisoner has to learn about their case, their rights, or legal procedure.

The Clinic has invested a lot of energy in dealing with these cases, explains Charlotte Andrews-Briscoe, who is working with APP.  Charlotte wrote her dissertation on Legal Education in Prisons in Kenya examining the necessity for these kinds of services there.

Emmanuel Oteng of APP describes their work, “The support that we offered two of these young men was as follows: they came to register at our clinic and we offered them help to be cause-listed and advice on their appeal. Specifically, we helped them to secure documentary evidence which proved their ages, and we advised them of their rights as juveniles. We told them about their rights in court, and how to advise their lawyer.” Canan Nkamuhabwa was their paralegal. The other four were not APP’s clients, but they benefited from the advice that was given to their two co-accused.

For the three who were acquitted of their charges and sent home, they were offered the same legal advice. In their case a paralegal also wrote and filed a Memorandum of Appeal for them. Paul Kakubi was their paralegal.

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Uganda’s Prison Service at Luzira

The Luzira complex, the biggest establishment in the country, consists of four prisons: a maximum security facility known as Upper Prison, Murchison Bay for medium length sentences, Kampala remand prison for pre-trial detainees and Luzira’s women prison. Luzira also holds death row inmates both in the male and female prisons. The prison has a main prison yard where inmates play football. Where once its conditions were violent and squalid, it’s now seen as one of the most progressive prisons in the country. And in September 2018 APP opened the Luzira Youth Centre thanks to an ongoing partnership with the prison and a number of generous supporters.

Officially Ugandan Prisons do not hold juveniles. In Uganda, children in conflict with the law are principally the responsibility of the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development. Whilst prisoners over 18 are the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, both juveniles and prisoners are under the Justice Law and Order Sector secretariat.

These individuals, and others like them, were held at Luzira Upper Prison because the Court had sentenced them as adults. Here was a far-reaching error in judgment rectified with the support of APP trained paralegals. However, without access to the prison-based Legal Aid Clinic and the support that provides, there may have been no appeal or release for them.  

Putting the Law to Work For Themselves

It’s because of these sorts of cases that APP seeks to provide a ‘people centered approach to legal empowerment’. Prisoners cannot wait for someone else to plead their cases for them. Especially when they have the ability to learn and practice the law for themselves, despite their limited resources. And that includes children. No child should face imprisonment, sentenced as an adult, simply because they lack the means or opportunity to gain access to justice. And we are excited to find a new partner who shares our commitment to that goal.

Transforming Juvenile Detention in East Uganda

JENGA Community Development Outreach (JENGA) is a non-profit charity based in Mbale, Uganda, working through diverse and sustainable development projects. One of their areas of focus areas is to actively invest in the lives of vulnerable children across the poorest communities in and around Mbale.

The Mbale Remand Home is a government-run juvenile detention centre for East Uganda. As part of the nation’s remand system, it was established with the goal of providing efficient access to justice for youth who have come into conflict with the law. However, the reality is very different. The Mbale Remand Home struggles from the same systemic problems as many adult prisons in Uganda: overcrowding, delays and shortages. But here there are children, with little opportunity for rehabilitation or development.

JENGA’s has been providing a holistic rehabilitation programme in the Mbale Remand Home where they have a longstanding relationship with the officers and staff there. Together we are exploring the possibility that juvenile detention could also become a place of positive change and empowerment.

To that end, our goals are to work towards a remand system that enables children in conflict with the law to access justice and addresses the justice needs of the children who continue to be detained in remand homes.