Alarm over arrest and detention of children

The Law Society has  expressed concern over the arrest, detention and questioning of minor children in contravention of provisions of the Children’s Act and Botswana’s international obligations under the International Convention on Children’s Rights.

“The Botswana Police are reported to have pursued this line of action despite repeated protests by parents, guardians and other interested parties,” said Tebogo Moipolai, Executive Secretary, of the Law Society of Botswana.

He said, “The Law Society’s attempts to meet with, discuss and secure the true facts of this matter with the Botswana Police have unfortunately been unsuccessful. This in itself is again worrisome.”

According to the Botswana Police there were 18 recorded incidents of public disturbances, with some of them involving violence and theft during the public sector strike.

Thamaga Station Commander Balisi Ntamba, said “Students have been making statements by themselves today(Monday) after consultations with their parents.” He said, “We are still investigating.”

Incidents were recorded in Gaborone, Gantsi, Hukuntsi, Mahalapye, Mochudi, Mogoditshane, Molepolole, Moshupa, Ramotswe, Selebi-Phikwe and Thamaga. About 152 students, 13 striking workers and 12 members of the public were allegedly taken in for questioning.

“In Mochudi, Mogoditshane, Molepolole, Moshupa, Ramotswa and Thamaga the police arrested 141 students for looting shops and other business enterprises, causing damage to school premises, vehicles and business premises, as well as blocking roads by placing stones and debris,” said Botswana Police Spokesperson Chris Mbulawa.

He said, “In Ramotswe 11 students were arrested for theft involving food at the Kagiso Senior Secondary school kitchen.”

According to DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights – State agents such as the Botswana Police must resolve the situation in accordance with the provisions of the Children’s Act, 2009.

According to this law before any legal is taken against a child for a criminal offence, a report has to be made to a police officer. This is followed by investigation by the police officer.

The investigation includes a report prepared by a social worker about the background of the child, includes information about the home environment, school records and medical history (if any) of the child. The social worker is also expected to make a recommendation about the best way of dealing with the child.

The police officer submits the entire report to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who makes the necessary decision about prosecution.

DITSHWANELO said in dealing with the present situation it must be remembered that the age of criminal responsibility begins at 14 years and the rights and well-being of vulnerable groups, such as students, must be considered and decisions taken in the “best interest” of the child.

This includes urgently considering the release of juveniles who have been arrested for being caught up in the emotive context.

“The arrests are due to reports of students rioting, clashing with the police and causing damage to school property.  These actions have come about, not only following the strike action, but also delays and irregularities in examination processes in 2010 and delays in obtaining examination results and higher school places in 2011,” said Alice Mogwe, Director of DITSHWANELO.

She said, “In the circumstances, the juveniles in detention might actually be positively considered under Section 42 of the Children’s Act, as children in need of protection, rather than as criminals.”

DITSHWANELO urged students to express their concerns on the current situation, with dignity, respect and botho, pointing out that wanton acts of violence, disorder and intimidation serve only to undermine the integrity of the civil servants’ strike.

Mogwe believes that to allow anger and frustration to be the main drivers and determinants of strategy and action, will risk the indefinite continuation of the national crisis.

DITSHWANELO believes that it creates a platform for the further loss of lives and serious disruption of and long-term consequences on the education of the youth, our future leaders.

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