Children’s voices should always be meaningfully included in care reform at all levels. This also applies to their involvement when it comes to the court system.
Children in Kenya, one country where we operate, go to court for different reasons. Sometimes they come into conflict with the law, while other times they may be a witness in a child-related case. But normal courts can be quite intimidating to children. They do not always accommodate their needs, which can be a hindrance to justice.
This is why Lumos Kenya recently led our first participation event for children and young people in the region.
A DREAM COMING TOGETHER
Hosted in Embu Country, this landmark event brought young people, child protection and law officials together to make the dream of a child-friendly court come true. A children’s court in the county served as the setting, where we brought in an artist to design the court space with child-friendly artwork. This included familiar cartoon characters and vibrant colours on the walls so the court could be as welcoming to children as possible.
However, the changes were not just aesthetic, as practical changes to benefit children were also made. The children’s court is designed to ensure that the magistrate sits at the same level as the children. A magistrate at the court explained: this is because it’s important for the children to feel like they are talking to a friend when they come to court.
The magistrate also added that the presiding magistrates will not robe up during the proceedings to ensure that the children are comfortable.
Child Youth Participants (CYPs) involved in this project raised their concerns about child witnesses sometimes feeling intimidated by a possible defendant, as the seating for both was opposite each other. As a result, it was agreed that the court would have a witness protection box to allow children to see everyone in court without being seen themselves.
It was also agreed that the court would review on a case-to-case basis whether a child could sit with a trusted person in the witness box if it helped make them feel more comfortable to speak.
The final transformation was outstanding. As the faces of the children in attendance lit up when they walked into the newly changed court.
One participant from Jomo Kenyatta Home for Children with Physical Disability said, “I love everything about the new court.”
A representative from Kenya Children Assembly couldn’t hide her joy when she said, “I love the designs on the walls and the sitting arrangement.”
To add their finishing touches to this new space, the CYPs were asked to create art pieces, with the Chief Magistrate making their day by announcing that their art pieces would be framed and hung in the courtroom.
Mr. Mundi, the Coordinator for Children Services in Embu said, “The children’s court is a dream come true. It feels like a New Year’s gift and we are very grateful to Lumos.”
Grace Mwangi from Lumos Kenya expressed her gratitude to Embu County for being the first county in Eastern Region to have a child-friendly court. She added that she hoped that the entire country would emulate the county and set designated child-friendly courts.