Two United Nations agencies are providing clothing, transport and food allowances to more than 100 teenagers released this week from prison in the self-declared autonomous region of Somaliland in north-western Somalia as part of efforts to help the children reintegrate into their communities.
Under the Justice for Children Project, a joint effort of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the released inmates are also being given individual counselling and berths in vocational programmes.
On Tuesday the 104 children, all aged between 15 and 18, were released from eight prisons into the care of their local communities after a presidential decree pardon. Many had been jailed on such charges as truancy, vagrancy or disobedience to parents.
UNICEF said in a press release issued today that the project includes efforts to ensure that local communities offer a protective environment so that the children do not feel stigmatized when they return.
Christian Balslev-Olesen, the agency’s representative for Somalia, welcomed the decree and other recent initiatives by authorities in Somaliland.
“These actions will ensure a fair justice… system for children and build greater awareness of child rights and the need for children to be protected when they come in contact with the law,” he said.
UNDP programme manager Alejandro Bendaña said the project was helping to strengthen the judiciary, law enforcement and human rights in Somaliland.
“The new juvenile justice law takes precedence over all other laws relating to children in conflict with the law and we expect its provisions – such as community mechanisms to address juvenile misbehaviour – to be used more frequently to prevent the imprisonment of children,” he said.
Two of the children, whose names were not released to protect their identities, said they were hoping to build better lives.
A 17-year-old boy imprisoned for causing a disturbance at a wedding recounted being sent to jail: “While in prison most of the discussions with the inmates related to the advanced ways of committing crimes. I hope I will not go back to prison.”
A 15-year-old boy said he was very scared during his stint in prison: “There are lice in our bodies and we don’t get proper education. Older people tell us all kinds of horrible stories and the guy who murdered his father is in the same cell as us. However, I wish for a day I could be educated and lead a law-abiding life.”