A Path towards Juvenile Justice

Before Eye of the Child was even created, we recognized the lack of legislation protecting the rights of children and began advocating for the Malawi government to pass such laws. Once the organization was founded, we began a process of advocacy for this legislation, starting at the grassroots level.

Eventually, in 2010, Eye of the Child successfully pressured the Malawi government to pass the Child Protection Care Act as enabling legislation for the Bill of Rights, which had been added to the Constitution in 1994.

The passing of this act was a massive achievement for Eye of the Child and will continue to change the lives of millions of children.

This success could not have happened without the unique model of Eye of the Child, whose mobilization of its network of supporters in all areas of the country allowed for a groundswell of support that made the passage of legislation to support children’s rights inevitable.

Before the Child Protection Care Act, there was no functioning juvenile justice system and we recognized how dire the situation had become in Malawi. Malawi’s Penal Code allowed for a 10-year old to be charged with criminal responsibility and most of the time children were treated the same as adults, with no consideration of their age.

Most of these child offenders came from broken homes and oftentimes were victims of economic exploitation. In almost all cases, the child offenders were suffering from extreme poverty and thus more vulnerable to committing crimes.

When we began implementing our advocacy strategy for a juvenile justice system, the situation was becoming worse in Malawi. Crime rates were increasing and more and more children were being sent to prison.

Between 2003 and 2010, the crime rate increased 55% and prison environments were anything but humane.

Children were suffering from overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor healthcare and inadequate diet. 75% of crime is committed by young people and the root of their crimes can usually be traced to poverty, abuse, and lack of opportunity, all issues Eye of the Child programs try to address.

With crime on the rise and the situation of juvenile offenders bleak, Eye of the Child’s efforts to reform juvenile justice had become a necessary priority.

Aftermath of independence, rather than create an entirely new set of laws, Malawi adopted much of the legislation implemented by the British colonial government when it achieved independence in 1964.

Thus, there were clearly many gaps when it came to the rights of all Malawi citizens under the law, particularly children. Beginning in 1993, l began lobbying for the implementation of children’s rights in Malawi, culminating in the passage of the Child Protection Care Act in 2010.

The process by which Eye of the Child was able to successfully advocate for the passage of the Child Protection Care Act exemplifies how Eye of the Child’s model works.

Eye of the Child partnered with the Malawi Law Commission, which was eventually responsible for writing the Act, to conduct research on what a juvenile justice system would look like and how communities would receive it.

In order to make this collaboration between the government and the communities possible, Eye of the Child started by organizing at the grassroots level.

This was a prerequisite for conditioning the community in a way that forced the government to enact legislation.

The research taken up by the Law Commission and Eye of the Child exemplifies the strength of the Child Protection Community Committees that Eye of the Child created.

These committees were made up of parents from the community, traditional leaders, faith leaders, retired teachers, government officers and elders.

Eye of the Child leveraged these stakeholders to perform consultations with other parents, teachers, community leaders and children and a dialogue was created around the issue of child justice.

Advocacy is a primary component of Eye of the Child’s model and nothing can be achieved without first succeeded on this front.

The goal behind these conversations was to change peoples’ attitudes, promote awareness, restructure systems, and build capacity of stakeholders.

Two ways in which this grassroots organization and dialogue took concrete shape were in the formation of theater forums and soccer games.

During the organized theater forums, leaders would act out what the problems were and community participants would then respond by acting out possible solutions.

All levels of community members were asked to participate and children were given the opportunity to have their voices heard. The forums raised awareness and educated communities on the rights that should be given to all children.

Another innovative approach to fostering this discussion on juvenile justice was the organization of soccer games as a mediating ground.

Children were separated into teams and between each game a discussion would be held. This discussion would be focused on drawing parallels between the sport they were playing and a juvenile justice system.

The idea was to talk about the system in a way children could relate to and be in which they would be interested.

Public Education is an important aspect of Eye of the Child’s model and through these “Public Awareness Meetings,” communities were able to learn about justice and the rights children deserve under the law.

Juvenile justice was an entirely new concept to these communities and people needed to be introduced to these issues in a way they could relate to first-hand.

This allows for Child Participation by asking children how they feel and involving them in the process, thereby lending credibility to the research by bringing in the children’s perspective.

Participation is key to Eye of the Child’s model and the organization engaged all affected by the implementation of a child justice system.

Everyone from police officers to parents to any level of government or government official was welcome at the discussion, and children were introduced to their rights in metaphors relating to soccer.

The soccer games continued for 3 years and had wide reaching effects all over Malawi.

Eye of the Child documented these forums and games in order to demonstrate to Parliament that communities were ready for a child justice system and understood what the rights of children should look like.

They planted the seeds for the system and prepared the communities in a way that forced the government to respond.

In staying true to their model, beneficiaries were included at every step – the planning of the soccer games, the implementation and in proposing the bill to Parliament.

In 2010, the law commission presented the research to Parliament and the discussions held during these “Public Awareness Meetings” were written into law.

While Eye of the child organized these forums, they would not have been possible without the funding provided by Firelight Foundation and UNICEF.

This is just one instance where Eye of the Child engages in a strong alliance with other organizations that have the same overall mission.

With a fortified framework of stakeholders at a grassroots level, even more pressure is placed on the government to enact change.

The soccer games and theater forums highlight Eye of the Child’s approach to change and the bedrock of their philosophy towards advocacy.

By building a structure on the ground and educating communities in a way they can relate, the organization is able to leverage change in a meaningful and sustainable way.

It took from 1995 until 2010 for concrete policy to be implemented in regards to the child justice system, but without the years of research and community-based awareness building, there would have never been a convincing or valid argument compelling the government to act.

It is a process that starts at the core and gradually changes the entire system.

Advocacy is arguably Eye of the Child’s most important tool as an organization and it is this social mobilization from the grassroots that allows their impact to be so meaningful and lasting.

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