Child welfare minister Doreen Sioka has pleaded with the High Court not to impose sanctions against her for failing to present a detailed action plan to establish child-friendly jails as ordered by the court.
According to the minister, the delay to file her action plan was not deliberate, claiming the consultative and research process took longer than anticipated.
The process was finalised on 7 June and her affidavit to that effect was filed on 14 June. High Court Judge Nate Ndauendapo last year ordered the minister and her team to present a detailed action plan on how they will establish child-friendly jails on or before 31 March 2021.
He further ordered the police to ensure that, without delay, and where possible, jailed children are separated from adult inmates. However, in May, the ombudsman’s office filed a contempt of court application against Sioka for failing to comply with the court order.
Sioka in her affidavit claims to have complied with the order and that a conviction of a crime without being charged and afforded a fair trial would be unconstitutional.
It is her stance that her failure to comply on time has not affected the wellbeing of the minors who were imprisoned alongside adult inmates around the country.
“The minors have already been separated where possible and this was done way before my affidavit was due, as per compliance reports filed on record by the ministry of safety and security,” explained Sioka.
Her lawyer Freddy Kadhila is requesting the court to condone Sioka’s late filing. He further indicated the ombudsman’s office has failed to prove that Sioka intentionally failed to comply with the court order.
The ombudsman is seeking an order that would find Sioka in contempt of court and consequently convicting her of such. Should she be convicted, the ombudsman has asked the court to pass an appropriate sentence either a custodial sentence and or fine and or a suspended custodial sentence consequent to payment of a fine.
It is further seeking an order compelling Sioka to present a detailed plan and programme of action to establish child-friendly jails within 30 days and further bear the cost of the application.
The lawyer for the ombudsman, Tuhafeni Muhongo said the minister’s failure to comply with the court order shows that she undermines and disregards the rights and physiological welfare of minors.
“The minister had not delivered the report (under oath) setting out the matter contemplated by the order. The report, in form and substance, remains outstanding,” said Muhongo.
Muhongo said the court should find Sioka in contempt of court and charge her. Judge Nate Ndauendapo is scheduled to give a ruling in the matter on 8 March 2022.