Paul Davis, 3L
Sixty Feet’s Children’s Justice Initiative
Since we (my wife and I) got into Kampala at 1am on Sunday, life has been non-stop. Between driving on the left side of the road through seas of trucks, vans and bodas (motorcycles) and trying to understand our role within the organization life has been very full. Full but good.
In Ugandan Sixty Feet is known as Children’s Justice Initiative (CJI). CJI’s principle goal is to care for children in conflict with the law. CJI accomplishes this by supporting counselors, providing basic medical care and participating in legal advocacy for the children in the juvenile homes. CJI operates in Nguru which is a small section in the lush hills of Kampala. The office is located next to a juvenile remand home and a reception center for street kids.
What I have learned in my first week is that helping is complicated, it’s not axis versus allies or good versus evil. Often it appears that when attempting to help in one area their will be great harm in another or that creating a solution becomes a matter of choosing the lesser evil. Government agencies attitudes towards children in conflict with the law range from strong advocacy to blatant obstruction of justice. One thing is very certain though, a strong governmental and cultural belief in the rule of law is desperately needed. The Ugandan laws for Children found in the Childrens Act are actually quite expansive: requiring that children have education, immunization, adequate diet, clothing, shelter, medical attention and protection from abuse. The problem is that both enforcement and cultural support are inconsistent and rampant bribery further dilutes legislation’s power.
CJI’s legal department is presently advocating for children’s rights in several ways. A main focus currently is on the diversion program. This program is designed to direct children who are arrested for committing petty crimes away from the criminal institution. Instead of serving a sentence in a prison they are given the opportunity to pay back or work for the person they harmed or be enrolled in counseling. The program functions by having advocates stationed at police stations that counsel the police officers on the law and encourage them to offer the children alternative resolutions for their crimes. The program has been operating for one week and so far diversion has been successful in many instances. The legal department also supports a program called J-Faster which is run by Pepperdine’s global justice fellow. This program works with children accused of crimes and helps negotiate guilty pleas in order to significantly reduce sentences. This addresses the abundance of overcrowding in the juvenile homes and a severely backlogged case file in the juvenile system. J-Faster has been very successful in the past and we hope to be very involved while we are here.
My role as legal director is to oversee the successful implementation of these programs, maintain CJI’s relationships with partners and further identifying areas in which the legal program can advocate for children in conflict with the law. If the first week was any indication of what the rest of the summer will look like I expect that I will be presented with an abundance of opportunities to advocate both individual children and the implementation of the rule of law.