All You Need to know about Juvenile Justice in Ghana

In this article, you would find all you need to know about Juvenile justice in Ghana. Every day, throughout the world, children come before the courts for a variety of reasons: as victims or witnesses of a crime who have an essential testimony to give; because they are accused of committing a crime; and as subjects of proceedings relating to custody, guardianship, maintenance or adoption. In most countries, the justice system has been designed primarily for adults. The formality of procedures can be intimidating for children and prevent their full and effective participation in the system.

Children face the same obstacles that adults face in accessing the courts. Barriers include lack of legal awareness, the high cost of legal proceedings, and other legal and social obstacles due to their status as children. Most children lack adequate knowledge, education, maturity, and experience in dealing with public officials to articulate their needs and claim their rights. When children participate in judicial proceedings, they are often confused and intimidated by the formal court procedures and unable to express themselves effectively. These obstacles are compounded for vulnerable children such as children with disabilities, children from disadvantaged or low-income families, and children without parental care.

Dzifah Tamakloe

What is child-friendly justice system?

A child-friendly justice system is one that: ž. Treats children with dignity, respect, care, and fairness; ž. Is accessible, understandable and reliable; Facilitates children’s meaningful participation by adapting the court setting and procedures to be more sensitive to the child’s age, maturity and special needs; ž. Listens to children takes their views seriously and ensures that the interests of those who cannot express themselves (such as babies) are protected; ž. Adjusts its pace to children, providing a speedy resolution of issues and avoidance of delays; ž. Ensures that all decisions are guided by the child’s best interest, having regard to the child’s individual circumstances and needs.

Who is a juvenile?

The Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) defines a juvenile offender in Ghana as someone between the ages of 12 and 18 who commits a crime. Psychologist Terrie Moffitt proposed two types of juvenile delinquents: life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited offenders. The three classifications of children under the juvenile court jurisdiction include children who are neglected or abused, are unruly or commit status offenses, and are charged with serious crimes.

Ghana has a pluralist legal system

Ghana has a pluralist legal system combining British common law and customary law. Pursuant to the 1992 Constitution, the laws of Ghana are comprised of the Constitution; enactments of Parliament; orders, rules and regulations; and the common law, which includes customary law. The independence of the judiciary from the executive and legislative branches of government is constitutionally entrenched. The constitution also guarantees all people’s equality before the law and the freedom to enforce their rights in a court of law.

Since ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, Ghana has made steady progress in promoting respect for the fundamental human rights of every child. It is therefore imperative that the entire justice system finds new ways to engage with them in a child friendly manner, to prevent secondary victimization. One of the key recommendations is to put in place a more child-sensitive environment for children who appear in court, particularly child victims of abuse.

As highlighted in the Guidance Note of the Secretary General on Justice for Children (2008), the following principles should guide all justice for children interventions, from policy development to direct work with children: 1) Ensuring that the best interests of the child is given primary consideration; 2) Guaranteeing fair and equal treatment of every child, free from all kinds of discrimination; 3) Advancing the right of the child to express his or her views freely and to be heard; 4) Protecting every child from abuse, exploitation and violence; 5) Treating every child with dignity and compassion; 6) Respecting legal guarantees and safeguards in all processes; 7) Preventing conflict with the law as a crucial element of any juvenile justice policy; 8) Using deprivation of liberty of children only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and promoting alternatives to detention such as diversion and restorative justice; and 9) Mainstreaming children’s issues in all rule of law efforts.

A variety of laws guides children’s access to justice

The Juvenile Justice Act, 2003 (Act 653) regulates handling children in conflict with the law. It outlines special procedures for children’s arrest, investigation, trial, and sentencing.

The Children Act, 1998 (Act 560), as amended by Act 937, guarantees children’s rights by the CRC and reinforces that the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration by any court, person, institution, or other body in any matter concerned with a child. The Act outlines principles and procedures for dealing with children needing care and protection, fostering and adoption, and addressing disputes concerning parentage, child custody, access and maintenance.

 The Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) penalizes all forms of violence against children, including child-specific offenses to causing harm to a child at birth; exposing a child to harm and negligently causing harm; kidnapping, abduction, child stealing and abandonment of an infant; and rape, defilement, carnal knowledge, indecent assault and child prostitution. Subsequent amendments strengthened provisions relating to the sexual exploitation of children3 and female genital mutilation.

The Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 30) outlines detailed procedures for the arrest and trial of adults charged with an offence, including methods for examining and cross-examining witnesses that apply equally to children and adults.

 The Courts Act, 1993 (Act 459): sets out the structure of the court system in Ghana and defines the respective scope of jurisdiction for the various levels within the court structure.

 The Persons with Disability Act, 2006 (Act 715) requires courts to considerthe condition of a person with a disability and provide appropriate facilities.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2010 (Act 798) regulates the process of mediatingsettlements in civil and minor criminal disputes.

The Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694) penalizes trafficking in persons and makes pro provides rescuing, rehabilitating, and reintegrating.

The Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732) defines and prohibits domestic violence (including violence against children), authorizes the court to issue protection orders, and includes special protections for victims during court proceedings.

The Ministry of Justice also operates a Legal Aid Scheme which provides legal services to the indigent under the Legal Aid Act, 1997 (Act 542). It undertakes public legal education,offers legal advice, assists clients in resolving disputes without litigation, and provides legal representation in criminal and civil matters to those who qualify.

The Ghana Police Service investigates all crimes and prosecutes cases before the District Courts and Circuit Courts, where required, with advice and direction from the Attorney General’s Office. It has established a Domestic Violence and Victim’s Support Unit (DOVVSU) with specialist officers to handle children’s cases.

The Department of Social Welfare under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has social welfare officers and probation officers who sit as panel members on the Family Tribunals and Juvenile Courts and produce social inquiry reports for the courts.

The Commission on Human and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) investigates complaintsof fundamental rights violations, corruption, abuse of power, and unfair treatment. It handlesmany complaints involving children’s rights, including maintenance, neglect, abuse, abandonment, labour, paternity, forced marriage, custody, intestate benefits, refusal of medical treatment, and inhuman and degrading treatment.

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

One of the programme areas that the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) runs is access to justice, a key area in the practical realization of human rights. The Africa office is working towards achieving a higher level of access to justice for all persons. This includes monitoring the accessibility of justice in terms of the functionality of the justice system, its accessibility, and especially observance of the right to a fair trial. CHRI has also endeavored to ensure the availability of legal assistance to guarantee the right to a fair trial, particularly to the less privileged‐ the indigent arrested and detained persons.

In conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare, UNICEF completed a study on juvenile justice in Ghana from 1993‐2003.

The Juvenile Justice Act was created in 2003. It outlines most aspects of the juvenile justice system in Ghana and establishes the Junior and Senior Correctional Centres. Many aspects of the Act have gaps, and certain areas are not currently being followed by court and police officials. The Children’s Act does not explicitly mention juvenile justice but ensures children’s rights as a whole.

The Welfare Principle confirms that the child’s best interest is most important in any situation. The Act specifically lays out the right to education, well‐being, and social activity, and these rights must be upheld even within the criminal justice system. The Act also states that the juvenile may not be subjected to cruel or inhumane treatment or punishment.

Institutions mandated to protect Juveniles delinquents

Department of Social Welfare (DSW)

The Department of Social Welfare is statutorily mandated by the Children’s Act to oversee the administration of juvenile justice and the protection of children in general. The social workers who work within juvenile justice are employees of DSW. The Department also manages the remand homes and Junior Correctional Centers.

Ministry of Women and Children

The Ministry of Women and Children is mandated to ensure the “survival, protection, and development of the child.” Though UNICEF mentioned that the Ministry of Women and Children were theoretically involved with the policy aspect of juvenile justice, there is no evidence that they have any staff within the Ministry that works on issues relating to juvenile justice. The Ministry is split into different departments, one for women and one for children. There was not enough time to follow up with the specific Department of Children. Even if there is no particular contact for juvenile justice administration, finding a contact in the Department would be valuable in future research.

Ministry of Interior

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for administering prison sentences for adults. They also run the Senior Correctional Centres across the country. These centers are mainly for “young offenders” between 18 and 21. However, juveniles under 18 are sometimes sent to the Senior Correctional Centre if they commit a serious crime.

Attorney General’s Office

The Attorney General’s Office is the main body for the prosecution of criminal acts for adults. If a juvenile under 18 has committed a severe offense, the case will be referred from the police station or Juvenile Court to the Attorney General’s office. They will prosecute the case. Unfortunately, we could not find a contact at this office, and further research is needed into the process of trying juveniles in adult court.

Governmental Institutions For Juvenile Justice

Domestic Violence and Victim’s Support Unit (DOVVSU)

This is a police unit that was initially started as the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU). It has now shifted its focus to domestic violence. However, juvenile justice cases are often referred to by DOVVSU officials as these police officers are aware of the processes needed when a juvenile is arrested.

Department of Social Welfare (DSW)

The Department of Social Welfare is statutorily mandated by the Children’s Act to oversee the administration of juvenile justice and the protection of children in general. The social workers who work within juvenile justice are employees of DSW. The Department also manages the remand homes and Junior Correctional Centres.

Ministry of Women and Children

The Ministry of Women and Children is mandated to ensure the “survival, protection, and development of the child.” Though UNICEF recognizes that the Ministry of Women and Children are theoretically involved with the policy aspect of juvenile justice, there is no evidence that they have any staff within the Ministry that works on issues relating to juvenile justice.

Ministry of Interior

The Ministry of Interior is responsible for administering prison sentences for adults. They also run the Senior Correctional Centres across the country. These centers are mainly for “young offenders” between 18 and 21. However, juveniles under 18 are sometimes sent to the Senior Correctional Centre if they commit a serious crime.

Attorney General’s Office

The Attorney General’s Office is the main body for the prosecution of criminal acts for adults. Suppose a juvenile under the age of 18 has committed a serious offense. In that case, the case will be referred from the police station or Juvenile Court to the Attorney General’s office. They will prosecute the case. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a contact at this office, and further research is needed into the process of trying juveniles in adult court.

Juvenile Justice Procedures

Arrest and Early Detention

When a juvenile is arrested, the first step for the police is to try to determine their age. If there is reason to believe that the accused is under 18, the accused must be dealt with differently than adult offenders.

The juvenile must not be kept in the same cell as an adult offender and must be taken to a remand home within 48 hours. A “Remand Custody” order is written by the police and given to the social workers at the remand home. This remand warrant can only be valid for 48 hours. The juvenile must be brought to court within that time, and a new warrant must be issued: a “Warrant on Commitment for Trial or Remand or Adjournment.” Contrary to the popular belief of police officers, the juvenile does not have to be brought to a specific Juvenile Court to get a remand warrant. They can go to any court.

Amount of time spent at the police cells: The Juvenile Justice Act mandates that a juvenile can only stay at the police station for a maximum of 48 hours. After this, they must be charged and brought to court. A study by CHRI showed that most juveniles lack lawyers and are placed with adult offenders.

Bail

According to the Juvenile Justice Act (Section 21), bail should be granted as much as possible for juveniles. Such bail requests can be made when the juvenile first attend Juvenile Court. If Juvenile Court denies their request, a juvenile or his guardian may apply to the High Court. If bail is approved, a surety is often requested (though not required) from a parent or guardian to ensure that the juvenile will return to court. The fixed bail amount must not be unreasonable and would only be paid if the juvenile does not attend court.

Remand

If bail is not approved, the juvenile is sent to the nearest remand home or remanded to a responsible guardian. However, most of the juveniles that have been studied were not remanded to the home of a parent or guardian. For the Accra region, the remand home is located in Osu for both female and male juveniles. The Department of Social Welfare manages the Girl’s Remand Home and the Boy’s Remand Home. Males and females are separated as is required by the Juvenile Justice Act (Section 23 – 7). Still, the two remand homes are located on the same compound along with the Girl’s Correctional Centre and the Shelter for Abused Children. The remand order can only be made for a maximum period of 7 days. After this time, the juvenile must be brought back to court and be present for the extension of the remand warrant. Usually, a new date is stamped on the back of the original warrant by the relevant Juvenile Court. The entire stay at the remand home must be less than three months. The police usually escort the juvenile to court, but the social workers occasionally attend with the juvenile for further research.

Legal Representation

According to the Juvenile Justice Act, the juvenile has a right to access legal advice (Section 11 – 1, Section 22). However, currently, there is no structure in place by the DSW or any other government body to ensure that a lawyer is representing juveniles in conflict with the law. There is a Legal Aid Scheme, but only approximately 5% of the cases they pursue are criminal cases, and very few of these criminal defendants are juveniles. The Legal Aid Scheme does not keep separate records for juveniles, nor do they have lawyers that specifically defend juveniles.

Lack of legal awareness

The juveniles are not aware of their legal rights. Most have not been told of their rights, including, but not limited to: the right to legal representation; that their case must be finished within 6 months; that they need to be brought to court every seven

days; and that they are only allowed to be at the police station for 48 hours.

Child Panels

Child Panels were mandated by the Children’s Act of 1998 (Sections 27‐32). Though they are supposed to handle cases of all types relating to juveniles, they have a specific mandate to assist in criminal matters. Child Panels are supposed to exist in each district and they are supported financially by the District Assembly. They are not to have a judicial role but can advise and mediate in situations where a juvenile is in conflict with the law. The Children’s Act mandates that certain members of the community must be on the Child Panel. They are supposed to meet as often as necessary, but at least every 3 months. The idea behind Child Panels in juvenile justice cases is that they provide the opportunity for the juvenile to be diverted from the criminal justice system before the juvenile goes to trial.

Juvenile Court

While there is no structure for the Juvenile Court system in Ghana laid out by the Juvenile Justice Act, there are officially Juvenile Courts in most districts and in all 10 regions. In Accra, Juvenile Court is located at the Old Ministries. There is a specific room used every Thursday for Juvenile Court, as the Juvenile Justice Act mandates that Juvenile Court be kept separate from other court proceedings. The Juvenile Courtroom is informal and does not look like a traditional courtroom.

This is done to ensure that proceedings are kept informal while professional. The judge does not wear the traditional robe she would in any adult court. As juvenile offenders must be treated differently by the law, these are ways that Juvenile Court is distinguished from any other adult court.

The same judge attends court weekly and runs several other courts around Accra. Proceedings start in the morning and end at midday, usually because the judge is due at Substantive Court later in the day. At court, there are usually the following people present: the judge; two-panel members; the court clerk; the court social worker; the translator; the defense counsel; the police prosecutor; the police investigator; any witnesses; the complainant; the guardian or parent of the juvenile; and the juvenile. The panel members are present to advise the judge and to discuss the issue as a group. The judge is not bound by the opinion of either of the panel members but considers their views.

Juvenile Trial

As has been stated, Juvenile Court proceedings are usually kept informal. The complainant and accused will stand, and the translator will read the charge sheet in a language the accused can understand. A plea will be taken and recorded. If the accused pleads guilty, the judge will order the court social worker to prepare a Social Enquiry Report. The case is adjourned for two weeks so that the court can wait for the sentencing recommendation of the social worker. If the accused pleads not guilty, then a trial must begin.

All relevant parties must be present for the trial to occur: the police prosecutor, the investigator, the complainant, any witnesses, and the accused and his lawyer. If these people are absent, the case will usually be adjourned until the following week. During the trial, the judge and panel members listen to evidence provided by the police prosecutor and their witnesses. One of the witnesses will be the complainant. The prosecutor will begin questioning, and then the accused’s lawyer will cross‐examine.

The judge discusses the matter openly with the prosecutor, defense counsel, and the two other panel members. According to the Juvenile Justice Act, the entire case cannot go beyond six months.

Sentencing and Social Enquiry Report

Whether the offender is found guilty or pleads guilty, a Social Enquiry Report must be completed before sentencing. The court social worker creates the Social Enquiry Report. If possible, the court social worker visits the juvenile’s home and speaks to their parents or guardians. The social worker may also talk to the teachers of the juvenile or any other adult that can give pertinent information on the juvenile. The report shall include the history of the juvenile, the current circumstances of the juvenile, the conditions under which the offense was made, and a recommendation to the court for sentencing. The report must be made known to the juvenile and their attorney.

There are maximum sentences at a correctional center laid out by the Juvenile Justice Act, and these are always followed. These complete sentences are three months for a juvenile under the age of 16, 6 months for juveniles between 16 and 17 years; 24 months for a younger offender over 18; and three years for a serious offense.

If a juvenile has committed a serious offense, they may be sentenced to time at a Senior Correctional Centre even if they are 17 or younger. These severe offenses include murder; rape; defilement; indecent assault, involvement in unlawful harm; robbery with aggravating circumstances; drug offenses; and firearms-related crimes.

Correctional Centres and Remand Homes

Before the juvenile is tried or sentenced, they will often be sent to one of the remand homes in Osu. The Girl’s Remand Home is located on the same compound as the Boy’s Remand Home but still separated as required by the Juvenile Justice Act. The Girl’s Junior Correctional Centre is located in the same building as the Remand Home. That is, girls who have not been sentenced and those convicted live with each other despite their differing statuses.

Do not handle children from reformation centers as community outcast

Parents have been advised not to see or take children from reformation centers as community outcasts or failures.

The ‘Child Justice Project’ project coordinator at the Legal Resources Center(LRC), Lawyer Clarke Noyoru gave this counsel in Tamale during a one-day workshop to engage stakeholders of children’s rights and justice in the northern region.

 He said parents must receive their children in good faith and give them all the support they need to incorporate them into society without difficulty.

“A child’s crime is a reflection of the inability of the parents and the society to mold the child, and the fact that your child has erred doesn’t mean you reject that child but rather create a hospitable system for the child to continue with life by going back to school or learning a trade if he or she prefers that,” Lawyer Noyoru said. He cited the story of the prodigal son in the bible as a guide for parents to stand on to always give their children from the reformation centers fine handling.

The project coordinator, however, appealed to law enforcement agencies to sanction children who commit crimes in a child-friendly manner and accordance with the laws of the country. “We are not encouraging children to blunder, but if they do, I will plead that our law enforcement agencies should use child-friendly measures to correct the erred child,” he added.

Dzifah Tamakloe

The number of juveniles in prison keeps increasing

The number of juveniles in prison is growing gradually in the Bono, Bono East, and Ahafo regions Command of the Ghana Prisons Service (GPS), a Deputy Superintendent of Prisons (DSP) Johann Nii Narh Nartey, has said.

He expressed worry about the situation, saying that in 2019, the Sunyani Central Prison had one juvenile, which increased to six in 2020. Still, as of June this year, the number had risen to nine, comprising juveniles ages 12 to 17.

DSP Nartey, the Command’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that the Command had started sensitization programmes in the first and second cycle institutions to educate the pupils and students on the consequences of early crimes and their avoidance.

He said permission was needed from the regional directorate of the Ghana Education Service (GES) to carry out the campaign, which is being done to prevent interruptions in the academic work.

He said a more significant percentage of inmates at the prisons were those within the productive ages of 18 to 25, saying that trend did not indicate hope for the nation’s bright future if it continued because “the youth are the future leaders of every country.”

DSP Nartey said many children were ignorant of minor crimes, which could cause them to be imprisoned, and appealed to stakeholders to assist by instilling in the children and youth sound moral training in their families and communities for them to become assets, not liabilities in future.
He implored parents, guardians, teachers, schools’ guidance and counseling coordinators, churches’ counseling units, and social workers to realize that the challenge “is a shared responsibility of all to save the country’s future leaders.”

DSP Nartey asked the school heads also to cooperate by responding to Service’s request to enable them to educate the pupils and students and appealed to individuals and organizations to graciously sponsor the programme so that the Command could reach out to all schools, both public and private for a very successful impact.

He said a more significant percentage of inmates at the prisons were those within the productive ages of 18 to 25, saying that trend did not indicate hope for the nation’s bright future if it continued because “the youth are the future leaders of every country.”

DSP Nartey said many children were ignorant of minor crimes, which could cause them to be imprisoned, and appealed to stakeholders to assist by instilling in the children and youth sound moral training in their families and communities for them to become assets and not liabilities in future.

He implored parents, guardians, teachers, schools’ guidance and counseling coordinators, churches’ counseling units, and social workers to realize that the challenge “is a shared responsibility of all to save the country’s future leaders.”

DSP Nartey asked the school heads also to cooperate by responding to Service’s request to enable them to educate the pupils and students and appealed to individuals and organizations to graciously sponsor the programme so that the Command could reach out to all schools, both public and private for a very successful impact.

Juvenile Offenders confronted by myriad of opportunities

Juvenile offenders confined in correctional institutions are confronted by social, economic, and family challenges that tend to become obstacles to a crime-free lifestyle on discharge. Some of these challenges are more directly associated with incarceration and transition back into society.

 Therefore, it is not uncommon for persons coming out of juvenile correctional centers to return to a worse criminal life. Hence reintegration of these discharged juveniles is not a simple one. It involves severe conscious efforts that are complicated.

NGOs that support Juveniles delinquents

Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a non-governmental human rights organization, in April 2022, launched the ‘Child Justice Project’ to create an enabling environment for the protection of children. The three-year project, supported by the European Union (EU), is to bridge the gap between legislation and practice within the Ghanaian Child Justice system. It aims to ensure the right input to facilitate the review and amendment of child-related legislation to promote and protect child rights.

Child Research and Resource Centre (CRRECENT) is a Civil Society Organization that promotes child and youth protection and development. Our vision is to contribute to building a well-integrated society that recognizes children in every sector, creating the necessary space and opportunity to respond to their developmental needs.

CRRECENT’s flagship programme is the re-integration of juvenile offenders into society. Since 2011, the organization has affected the lives of over 200 discharged juveniles aged between 16 and 20 and their families in the re-integration programme.

The inauguration of a child-friendly court is novel

In December 2018, the Judicial Service of Ghana, with support from UNICEF inaugurated the first Child-friendly court in Ghana.  The Court situated within the Gender-Based Violence Courts is aimed at addressing the needs of children using more age-appropriate procedures and tools. 

The child-friendly court includes facilities such as the waiting room designed to provide a friendly environment to child victims, witnesses, and children w come into contact with the law for other reasons.  The facility is furnished with necessary technical equipment, CCTV, a small library, toys, information, and literature on child protection for psychologists, lawyers, support persons, and parents.

The establishment of the court will be coupled with child-sensitive training of judges and court staff in handling children’s cases and specific provisions to protect children in contact with the law. The development of Standard Operating procedures for managing the child-friendly court.  The SOP will prevent child victims from facing perpetrators physically during the trial and minimize the trauma of victims who come to court for the first time.
The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) annual report reveal that there are more than 1,300 defilement cases each year. This calls for urgent action to address the protection needs of victims and allow for their participation in the trial process and ultimately improve their access to justice. 

 DANIDA is supporting the Judicial Service to scale up the court to the remaining nine regions of Ghana.  In addition to technical assistance from UNICEF, the government of Canada has provided financial assistance to the creation of the child-friendly court. 

The inauguration of Ghana’s first child-friendly court within a Gender Based Violence court reflects a collective commitment to promote a system that is sensitive to the plights of women and children, especially those who have suffered abuse. The establishment of the first child-friendly court is a critical and concrete step that contributes to ending violence and abuse. 

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