7 May 2020 – 85 juveniles are released from detention in South Sudan to decongest prisons as a COVID-19 prevention measure, UNICEF said today. The children are handed over to their parents or other legal guardians. 11 juveniles remain in prison due to the severity of the offences they are accused of. As detention of new children is still ongoing, UNICEF and the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will continue to advocate for their immediate release as new cases become known.
In South Sudan, prisons are overcrowded with inadequate access to hygiene services, nutrition and healthcare – conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19. Detained children are also more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and gender-based violence, especially if staffing levels or care will be negatively impacted by the pandemic or containment measures.
“Children have a special need for protection and their wellbeing must be secured,” said Dr Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF South Sudan Representative. “With the risk of COVID-19 infections, the best way of upholding children’s right to safe and healthy living conditions is returning them to their homes where they can be taken care of by their families.”
The release is a collaboration between the South Sudan Judiciary, the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, UNMISS and UNICEF. These are also important partners for UNICEF working to improve justice for children in South Sudan.
The country is lacking a juvenile justice system that takes into consideration the special needs of children in contact with the law, regardless of whether they are guilty as charged or not. Too many children are imprisoned for minor offences and many are serving their sentence together with adults which is a clear violation of children’s rights.
“We must establish a child friendly system respecting children’s rights also when they are in conflict with the law,” said Ayoya. “Simultaneously, we must prevent children from making offences in the first place, addressing root causes such as poverty, lack of education and future opportunities.”
UNICEF in South Sudan is working on a pilot project aiming at imprisonment of children is used only as a last resort. Alternatives to jail sentences are also explored. The training of law enforcers on child rights, the South Sudan Child Act and child friendly approaches, is aiming at reducing the number of detained children and providing better support to children in contact with the law.
Notes to editors:
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