UN Committee on the rights of the child expresses concern about the child justice system in Cameroon

In its latest review the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced serious concern over several issues for children in Cameroon. One central issue was the child justice system, and children’s right to be heard in a specialized justice system that continuously consider the best interest of the child.i Children have a right to special protection and care, which is why the Convention outlines several safeguards for children victims of crime or children in conflict with the law.ii

The Committee has previously held that because children differ from adults in their physical and psychological development and considering that the criminal justice system has proven harmful to children, exposure should be limited. The system should therefore work especially hard to expedite proceedings when children are involved.iii The Committee stated during the review that it “is seriously concerned that the legal and judicial protection of children in conflict with the law remains very weak.”iv

Some of the main concerns are continued arbitrary detention of children and frequent unlawful demands for informal fees for release and access to legal aid lawyers. Legal aid should be provided to children free of charge. Equal concern was expressed over the continued widespread use of lengthy pretrial detention and detention as a form of punishment instead of diversion to other measures. Detention should always be a measure of last resort when it comes to children.v Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are acutely aware of these issues in Cameroon. As of July 2019, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been supporting a minor in detention, who has been detained without trial or formal charges being brought against him for over two years. Clinton Awungafac is now 16 years old and his continued detention is a serious violation of his rights.vi

Another issue raised was reports about police violence toward children during interrogations and while in pretrial detention. Violence perpetrated by police during investigations and pretrial detention is unacceptable under all circumstances and should always be investigated and prosecuted, as it may amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.vii

The Committee raised serious concerns about children in Cameroon being exposed to violence not only when inside the justice system, but also in the home and in public spaces.viii Cameroon has an obligation to ensure the development of the child to the maximum extent possible,ix which is especially important when considering child justice and protection from violence. The Committee specifically expressed their concern over continued impunity for perpetrators of sexual offences against children.

This issue was also highlighted by Contra Nocendi last fall in connection with the recent case of TFA (a minor) v Cameroon in front of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.x The case involved a young girl that reported a rape and the case was dropped and later made impossible to appeal when the court wouldn’t release her court documents.xi In addition to the fact that the justice system failed her as a path to justice, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child voiced concern over the fact TFA had not received any victim support, something that the UN Committee described as a systemic problem in Cameroon during the review.xii Any child who has been exposed to violence should have access to the justice system and have a right to protection, support and redress. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon remains deeply concerned about the issues raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and believe that child justice and protection remain a central issue for children’s rights in Cameroon heading into 2020.

i United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 and art 40

iii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

iv United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Replies of Cameroon to the list of issues, 30 March 2017. CRC/C/CMR/Q/3-5/Add. 1

v UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a) and (b), United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

vi Contra Nocendi calls for release of minor held in prolong pre-trial detention in Cameroon

vii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a)

viii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ix UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 9189, Art 6 (2)

x Contra Nocendi International. Concerns about access to justice in Cameroon, 2019. Available at https://www.contranocendi.org/index.php/en/news-press/222-concerns-about-the-access-to-justice-for-children-in-cameroon [accessed 17 of January 2020]

xi African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), Decision on the Communication submitted by the Institute for Human Right and Development in Africa and Finders Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a minor) against the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, Communication no 006/Com/002/2015, Decision no 001/2018, May 2018, available at https://acerwc.africa/wp-content/uploads/2018/13/Cameron%20Rape%20Case.pdf [accessed 17 of January 2020]

xii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

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