Overview and mandate
The creation of the Ministry of Justice Child Justice Section (the Section) was a collaborative effort between UNICEF and the Ministry of Justice (the Ministry), and was formally launched in September 2011.
The Section coordinates child justice issues including policy formulation, implementation of Juvenile Diversion Program in compliance with the Children’s Law, training of relevant Child Justice Actors in compliance with National Agenda, Awareness on the basics of the Juvenile Procedural Code and other relevant laws. The Section works closely with the Women and Children Protection Section of the Liberian National Police, Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Prosecution, SGBV Unit, Public Defense, Juvenile Court and Magisterial Courts, the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Probation Services, and National and International NGOs.
The Section is responsible for issuing “Exit Clearances” for juvenile adoptees and children with special needs to depart the country. As a response to the issue of child trafficking, the Section continues to support the Ministry with regard to the development and implementation of an exit clearance policy for children who are transported out of Liberia by non-biological parents.
Activities of the Child Justice Section are aligned with Pillar 1 (Peace, Security & Rule of Law) of the Agenda for Transformation especially Output 6:1 which states “ By 2017, relevant institutions shall have the appropriate knowledge and capacity to provide child friendly justice and protection services imbedded in legislative, policy and regulatory framework compatible with universal child rights standards”.
Liberia is a party to all relevant international human rights instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Optional Protocols to the CRC. In compliance with the mandates of these international instruments, Liberia enacted the Children’s Law (2011). The Children’s Law mandates the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and other relevant ministries to take into account the child’s age and vulnerabilities and, at all times, to strive to reintegrate them into society.
The following programs are currently implemented by the Section:
Juvenile Diversion Program
The Juvenile Diversion program was established to ensure the functionality of the criminal justice system by reducing the number of minor and less serious offences committed by juveniles that clog up the formal justice system. This allows the limited resources to be focused on repeat or high-risk offenders. Diversion also helps to avoid stigmatization of juveniles that come in conflict with the law for minor offences, by diverting them from formal judicial proceedings. The project was implemented in two target counties, Montserrado and Bong.
The Juvenile Diversion program channels juveniles in conflict with the law away from formal judicial proceedings to some specially designed programs. The legal basis for the application of diversion is stated in Article 9, Section 3.2 of the Children’s Law of Liberia (2011):
“At all stages of investigating and prosecuting a crime involving a child, diversionary measures shall be considered, with the advice and facilitation of probation officers, social workers, or other appropriate service providers”.
Article 1, Section 3 of the Children’s Law defines diversion, in the context of children in conflict with the law, as:
“The removal from criminal or juvenile justice processing and referral to alternative social welfare and services.”
The Children’s Law and L.C.L.R. Juvenile Court Procedural Code (JCPC) emphasize the concept of diversion; neither law describes how diversionary measures should be administered in practice. Therefore, the Section developed Diversion Guidelines to provide a standardized and uniform approach and procedures for child justice actors with cases involving children who come in conflict with the law without resorting to formal judicial proceedings. They were developed and completed in collaboration with members of the Child Justice Forum.
Peer Educators Program
The Section has established a peer education program to promote the prevention of delinquent behavior by children identified as at risk and good moral character. The Section has recruited and trained 30 Peer Educators (10 in Bong and 20 in Montserrado) as part of the project. Peer Educators participate in school and community events in areas where children are most at risk of coming in conflict with the law.
The Diversion Club is a school-based club devoted to spreading positive choice making in schools and local communities. Diversion Club members take an oath to avoid and help to prevent juvenile delinquent behavior while being a role model in the community and a model student. Diversion clubs have been established at several high schools in Montserrado and Bong Counties with Peer Educators serving as Ambassadors.
In collaboration with Prison Fellowship Liberia and with assistance from UNICEF, the Section continues to oversee the monitoring of juveniles detained at police depots, zones and prisons in six counties across the country. Social Workers of the Section monitor Police details or depots or stations, magisterial courts, and prisons, to remain abreast of juvenile cases and to ensure that the best interest of the child is paramount.
Case Tracking Conference
The Section leads case tracking conferences which focus on cases of children who have been detained in pre-trial detention facilities. The Section collaborates with Child Justice Forum Members on the Case Tracking Conference Program.
The Ministry is responsible for issuing exit clearances for juvenile adoptees and children with special needs departing the country. As a response to the issue of child trafficking, the Section continues to support the Ministry with regard to the development and implementation of an “Exit Clearance” policy for children travelling out of Liberia with non-biological parents. The Section works closely with Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in the processing of “Exit Clearance”