Sioka in hot water over jailed children

04 March 2021 | Youth

Windhoek • [email protected]

The clock is ticking for child welfare minister Doreen Sioka who has less than a month left to present a detailed action plan to establish child-friendly jails after the Office of the Ombudsman in October last year discovered at least 30 minors imprisoned alongside adult inmates around the country.
The urgent application brought to court in October last year, accused Sioka of failing her duty to implement chapter five of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), which requires the ministry to ensure the establishment of child-friendly detention centres.
Advocate and Ombudsman John Walter’s founding affidavit pointed out that the CCPA expressly and tacitly outlaws the imprisonment of anyone aged 18 or younger in adult jails and prisons. “This means that any detention of children at police holding cells is not only undesirable but also unlawful,” the Ombudsman said in his founding affidavit.
“Her failure to carry out her statutory duty is unlawful,” he added.
Walters underlined it is the responsibility of the gender ministry to appoint or establish designated detention centres for children and failure to do so is a violation of their fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms. Moreover, he pointed out the gender ministry had failed to approve appropriate places of safety in lieu of its failure to establish them.
“This is even though the CCPA was promulgated five years ago and has been in operation for almost two years.”

Christmas gift
Just before Christmas, High Court judge Nate Ndauendapo ordered Sioka and her team to provide the court with an action plan detailing and time-lining the steps they will take to finally implement her mandate. Moreover, the police were instructed to ensure that, without delay, and where possible to ensure that jailed children are separated from adult inmates.
The police informed the Ombudsman in December that 34 male children were held in adult jails across the country as per their November records. At that time, one was 14-years-old, three were aged 15, eleven 16-year-old and seventeen 17-year-old.
Walters pointed out “it is doubtful that any of them [imprisoned children] have been informed of their rights not to be detained in police holding cells”.
He cautioned that children in adult jails are subject to “harsh circumstances which can only have adverse effects on their development”.
Among the offences that landed the children behind bars are accusations of rape, murder, robbery, damage to property, assault, stock theft, arson and escape from custody.
One 16-year-old was in jail in Rundu for “violation of community services”.
A letter dated 21 December by the gender ministry states that four minors were behind bars at that time and three had been transferred to Okatope holding cells in Onyaana. Two were 17-year-olds and one a 16-year-old.
One 17-year-old was being held in Omaruru.

Excuses
In December last year, gender minister Doreen Sioka informed the court that the implementation of the act concerning imprisoned juveniles is difficult due to financial and human resource constraints. “The ministry is forced to prioritise key provisions in an environment where financial and human resources are limited.”
As an example, Sioka said the ministry only has 79 social workers to attend to a population of more than 1 million citizens, which is a ratio of one social worker per 13 000 children under 18 years of age.
She said the ministry does manage to “soldier on” and has prioritised the implementation of several parts of the child protection act despite these hurdles. Among these efforts, she claimed the ministry has allocated a farm where it “envisions to set up a facility that will serve as a child detention centre”.
Sioka also said children and teenagers that are sent to adult prisons on the order of magistrates “because there are no detention centres (for children) established yet”.
She also excused the ministry's' failure to respond to urgent letters from the Ombudsman that had asked them to address the issue, telling the court that the failure to respond on time was “due to the high workload and overstretched staff members”.
The ministry was not able to respond to a request on the matter by the time of going to print.