Vice President Rupiah Banda says the current judicial system is not effectively equipped to address the difficulties of young victims of gender based violence and those who come into conflict with the law.
Mr Banda said the devastating emotional and physical effects of court processes on children as witnesses and court preparedness still remained a major challenge.
He noted that the values of children as witnesses and their court preparedness were left unattended to.
Mr Banda was speaking in Livingstone today when he officially opened the child witness workshop for high court judges at Chrismar hotel.
He said the dramatic increase in cases involving children had given rise to the need to prepare child witnesses for court proceedings.
Mr Banda said it was imperative that the capacities of those charged with the responsibility of handling children in the criminal justice sytem are strengthened.
He said it was Government’s hope that the workshop would lead to a reduction in the number of children ending up in places of safety,the reformatory and other juvenile institutions.
Mr Banda observed that some children ended up in such institutions for failure to properly represent themselves.
The Vice-President has since called for the wide dissemination of the Juvenile Act Cap 53 of the laws of Zambia which he said were very clear.
He bemoaned the fact that the number of children still finding themselves in places of safety, probation and reformatory centres was still high and required concerted efforts to minimise.
”In this regard, the Government is committed to domesticating the convention on the rights of the children and other related statutes,” he said.
Mr Banda further noted that Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children was explicit about children’s rights to express their views and to have an opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceeding affecting them.
He said the Article focussed on the responsibility of courts and in particular judges in child sexual assault matters to facilitate children’s testimony and improve children’s experience of the court process.
Mr Banda said children who appeared in court as child witnesses or offenders continued to carry the burden of proof and that they found themselves testifying about their own victimisation.
”Realising and appreciating that children participate in a system that is alien to them, it has become imperative to protect them through preparation for court procedures,” he said.
He said it was hoped that this would address concerns about difficulties faced by child witnesses and the need to provide special protective measures in court for young witnesses.
Mr Banda also hoped that Judges at the end of the programme would advocate for more fair, competent and corroborative requirements through the introduction of special procedures and physical facilities to reduce the emotional pressures of testifying that children face.
Speaking earlier, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala said the Judiciary had come to appreciate that continuing legal education was essential to judicial independence as it served to make
judges competent which in turn generated the confidence needed to resist extraneous influences that include corruption.
Chief Justice Sakala said most of such cases involved minors and vulnerable women as witnesses who due to factors such as tradition did not fair very well in court.