21 August 2013
N’Djamena, 21 August 2013 – Through its project supporting minors, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) has secured the release of 64 adolescents held in N’Djamena prison in Chad. Run in partnership with the Chadian NGO Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Rights (APLFT) and financed with the support of the European Union’s Programme to Support Justice in Chad, the project also highlights the difficulties that children and adolescents face in the legal system, and the manifest abuses they suffer.
Ali was only 16 years old when he was transferred to N’Djamena prison for breach of trust: “I was in prison for seven months without seeing the judge even once! I phoned my father. I cried, I couldn’t take it anymore.” Through the ASF project, a lawyer was appointed to help him. It emerged that Ali’s file had simply disappeared when the case was transferred to a different judge. Ali’s lawyer eventually secured his release.
This case illustrates the lack of legal or social structures that fully respect the rights of minors in Chad. “The law is not tough on minors who commit offences. However, because there are not enough shelters, we are forced to send them to prison,” one juvenile court judge admits. Minors are imprisoned with adults. “Here, there’s no reintegration, no education, no training,” says the N’Djamena prison clerk, summarising the situation.
“As part of the project, after examining the files of 86 minors held in N’Djamena prison, we secured the release of three-quarters of them!” reports Coralie de Lhoneux, ASF lawyer in Chad. “Seven other minors were finally tried. The cases of the remaining minors are now being monitored closely by the judge and the state prosecutor.”
Faced with the legal system’s dysfunction, which also clashes with Chad’s pervasive customary laws, civil society organisations attempt to improve the fate of minors in difficulty with the law, but with little expertise and means to do so. “This is why we provided support for shelters and accommodation centres, because these privately-funded initiatives are often the only recourse when a roof has to be found for children in difficulty. These centers have thus been able to take 125 children into their care,” explains Coralie de Lhoneux.
ASF called on the Saint-Louis University in Brussels to draw up a participatory status report on the sector at the start of the project to raise awareness among all players in the sector and to promote collaboration around the project. The population has also been made aware about the issue of children’s rights, and training sessions have been organised for all stakeholders in the sector to improve care of minors: for the police and gendarmerie, traditional authorities, NGOs, accommodation centers and lawyers.
“The legal authorities welcomed the project and ad hoc assistance was provided through the project. The challenge now is to see whether the efforts undertaken will be continued by local players so that these young people are properly cared for,” says Coralie de Lhoneux.