The ministry of gender equality and child welfare says it has established, approved and registered government and private residential childcare facilities as safety havens for children in need of protective services.
The ministry’s response comes in light of Ombudsman John Walters filing a contempt of court application against it and its minister Doreen Sioka for failing to honour a court order issued on 22 December last year directing the ministry to present a detailed action plan to establish child-friendly jails across the country.
In a press statement issued on Friday, the ministry indicates it is dismayed by the conduct of the Office of the Ombudsman.
“As human rights watchdogs, we understand the responsibility that their office holds. What we do not, however, understand is the lack of consultative approach to issues of mutual interest, thereby painting the ministry as a reluctant player on issues affecting children,” reads the statement.
The ministry points out that although safe havens have been established for children in need of protective services, such facilities will not be used for children who are currently awaiting trial for serious offences, and those who are serving prison sentences.
“Children awaiting trial or those sentenced require different interventions such as secure care away from adult offenders, rehabilitative services, and the ministry cannot use a blanket approach in addressing their needs,” continues the statement.
The ministry is also working in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security to explore alternative options to operationalise existing facilities for trial-awaiting and sentenced children.
According to the ministry, the children currently housed in safe havens have special needs, and cannot be further exposed to children with deviant behaviour as it will result in secondary trauma.
“The ministry has the obligation to ensure the protection and psychosocial well-being of both categories of children (those in need of parental care and those in conflict with the law), and hosting them in the same facilities does not promote their best interest”, they stated.
The ministry has been allocated a farm, and is establishing early prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes as provided for by the law.
In the case against it, 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 the payment of a fine.
The Ombudsman 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 to further bear the cost of the application.
Sioka has been given until 11 June to indicate if she will oppose the application against her. Last year, the Ombudsman dragged Sioka to court for allegedly failing in her duties when she did not implement chapter five of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), which requires the ministry to ensure the establishment of child-friendly detention centres.