The High Court in Lilongwe is expected to make a determination on whether it is lawful to remand children in police cells.
Eight children, names withheld, in May 2021 applied for judicial review after a lower court ruled that children should be remanded in the police cells as they are awaiting trial.
Centre for Human Rights, Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) Executive Director, Victor Mhango, said a recent survey conducted in Chitipa, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Phalombe found that there were 29 children in the police cells.
Chreaa therefore, asked the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Welfare to provide safety homes as an alternative.
“The problem is that we don’t have protection homes to keep the children. It is the duty of the government to provide these homes,” he said.
Mhango said Malawi laws prescribe children as those below the age of 18.
According to the court documents we have seen, eight children who are being represented by Chikondi Chijozi and Ruth Kaima, are challenging the orders of the lower court to remand them into police custody as unlawful.
They argue that this contravened Section 96 of the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act.
The applicants were minors who were appearing before the Soche Child Justice Court for various offences and were remanded in police custody in Limbe.
They argued that remanding children into police custody does not take into account the best interest of children as it exposes them to an environment that interferes with their education and is hazardous to their health, physical, mental and social development.
They further argued that this violates the children’s rights to fair trial by detaining them under conditions in which they are not provided adequate nutrition, does not take into account their vulnerability and is not desirable at their age for promotion of their reintegration into society.
In its submission on June 9, 2021, the State agreed that it was indeed unlawful to detain children in police custody and the orders made by the lower court remanding the applicants as children in police custody should be quashed.
“An order to detain children in safety homes is appropriate or the court may make necessary alternative orders as it may deem fit,” submitted the State.
Judge John Chirwa is presiding over the case.
In 2018, Justice Sylvester Kalembera also ruled that it was wrong to detain children at prisons because they are not reformatory centres.
The matter concerned children who for various reasons were in detention at Bvumbwe and Kachere Prisons.