Auxilia Katongomara Bulawayo Bureau
A TOTAL of 629 juvenile offenders were saved from appearing in court through the pre-trial diversion (PTD) programme that aims to prevent children from having a criminal record early in their lives.
Officials say theft is the most prevalent crime committed by juveniles committed due to poverty. PTD is a Government-initiated programme that channels cases involving children from the formal criminal justice system to extra-judicial programmes like paying compensation.
In an interview yesterday, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi said the PTD programme targeted juveniles under the age of 18 arrested for offences not considered to be serious that ordinarily attracts a sentence of 12 months or less within the formal criminal justice system.
“The aim is to protect the dignity and well-being of the child and rehabilitate them so that they can contribute positively to society. Most importantly through diversion we want to prevent the child offender from getting a criminal record early in their life and being labelled as criminals, that could have a negative impact on the children in future,” he said.
The minister said pre-trial diversion is a modern way of dealing with child criminality which has been identified as more rehabilitative and restorative.
“The diversion programme was also helpful in imparting useful skills and education to those juveniles so that we promote the child development in line with Article Six of the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child. And we are encouraging reparation or compensation to the victims thereby bringing closure to both the offender and victim,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi said some of the diversion mechanisms include paying reparations, counselling, attending a particular institution for educational or vocational purposes, victim-offender mediation, and constructive use of leisure time, police cautions and family group conferencing. The 629 PTD cases were recorded under a pilot project in five areas Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Murehwa and Chitungizwa.
“In 2017 we saw a total 629 offenders being referred for pre-trial diversion from the five districts. Of interest those that were referred there were zero defaulters, none were withdrawn which was very encouraging. What’s of interest is that of these young offenders, 39,9 percent were charged with theft and this indicates that theft is the most committed offence.
“Most offenders were stealing because they were coming from impoverished families, they will be hungry,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi said assault and bullying was the second most prevalent offence constituting 30,7 percent of the cases. He said Harare province received 279 juvenile offences and diverted 198, Bulawayo received 105 and diverted 99 while Chitungwiza recorded 120 cases and diverted 92 cases. Murehwa recorded 68 cases and 58 diverted while Gweru diverted 43 cases from 57 that were recorded.
“Bulawayo province had the highest diversion rate of 94,3 percent, followed by Murehwa with 85,3 percent and Chitungwiza with 77,5 percent. We also want the child to understand the impact of his or crime on others and the community,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi said they were working on decentralising services to other parts of the country. He said they want to take the services to five other provincial towns, Chinhoyi, Bindura, Mutare, Masvingo and Marondera during the second quarter of the year, before moving to all provincial capitals and all districts.
The Minister said they have started training community service officers who are going to be seconded for the programme. The pre-trial diversion initiative is part of a broader Danish Development Aid (DANIDA) funded Access to Justice programme implemented by UNICEF in partnership with relevant Government Ministries.