In 2006, the YMCA Sierra Leone became deeply touched by the injustices faced by Youths in the justice system, more especially what obtained in the cells and other detention facilities right round the country. This issue became a very serious concern for the YMCA that it could no longer restrain itself but to intervene. The association took up the initiative in 2007 in collaboration with Defence for Children International Sierra Leone Chapter starting with a research on youth justice issues in Sierra Leone.
This research was prompted by the weaknesses /gaps in the criminal justice system and the manner in which young people are arrested and detained in prison and other places of detention. To say the least, these practices were a contravention of international standards of dealing with juveniles or young offenders.
It is no gain saying that, YMCA Sierra Leone has a constituency of young people from their branches and local communities who have been actively involved in this work, particularly marginalised young people. One of the main methodological principles used in this project is to maximise youth participation allowing young people to take as many decisions as possible. Young people are involved in all stages of the campaign, taking the lead in the design and implementation of all activities. This has been achieved with guidance from our local YMCA staff, all of whom have experience of working directly with young people and facilitating their active participation in the project.
Youth Justice in Action (YJIA) Campaign is aimed at improving the conditions and prospect of young people in conflict with the law by effecting positive changes in law, policy and practice. The campaign also provides an opportunity for young people to voice their opinions on what they consider to be the main Youth Justice issues and to make recommendations for improvement. Y-Care International has being facilitating this process by:
• Empowering young people to increase their levels of participation in local and international government structures.
• Providing young people with the skills to engage effectively with decision makers and policy makers and
• Lastly, supporting young people and local YMCA’s to raise awareness on Youth Justice Issue The campaign takes place in six countries (Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo, Honduras, Ireland and UK), Campaign is being run by a battery of dynamic youths in each of the National movements of YMCA`s, in their respective countries.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
Youth Justice Action Campaign has tremendously impacted all facet of the Sierra Leonean society in achieving the following results through its young people who have been prime movers of the campaign.
• The campaign has Conducted two youth led researches and a Baseline Report on youth justice issues in Sierra Leone namely ,‘ Youth Justice Campaign Country Report on Sierra Leone’, and “Rough Justice For Young People ? UN Resolution A/HRC/10/l.15 in Sierra Leone: Paper to Practice’
• Lobbied the Sierra Leonean Parliament in passing the Child Rights Bill in to an Act in 2007.
• Conducted Solidarity March in 2008
• Raised public Awareness on youth justice issues through radio discussions on various radio stations in the country.
• Monitoring of court and detention Centres
• Held conferences and workshops on Youth Justice Issues with Youth groups and Civil Society Organisations nation wide.
• Established a core group of active young people engaged in campaigning on youth justice issues across the country.
• Young people have gained skills in advocacy and campaigning which has raised their self esteem and personal development.
• The project has ensured greater awareness among politicians and the public of situation of young people in conflict with the law and around the country and the willingness to bring about change
• Young people have acquired new skills in research; can now undertake research work and how to make use of the findings meaningfully to change their lives.
• Have acquired increase knowledge/understanding of the role of the United Nations and the role they can play to influence positively UN decisions and actions.
• YMCA now has a core group of active Young people’s engaged in campaigning on youth justice issues their self – confidence, self actualisation and personal development have increased tremendously over time. For instance, Young People in the Campaign enjoined the Child Rights Coalition to draft the Sierra Leone NGO Universal Periodic Report which was submitted at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in October, 2010.
• There has been improvement in the way young people in conflict with the law are treated by juvenile justice systems.
• There is greater awareness among decision makers and the public of the situation of young people in conflict with the law both at community, national and international levels and a willingness to bring about change. For Instance, the Campaign influenced to a lager extent the amendment of the Child Rights Act, 2007.
• Through the youth justice in action Campaign in collaboration with other partners like Justice Sector Development Project, there has been an increase improvement in the ineffective and unjust judicial processes in Sierra Leone.
• YJIA campaign has increased partnerships and links with other organisation that work in the field of youth justice and benefit from their expertise.
• The YMCA has now got a team of highly trained and skilled young advocates who can champion advocacy and campaigning issues in the organisation and who can serve as peer mentors to other young people and therefore leaving legacy of engagement in campaigning and advocating on issues that affect young people.
• Youth focussed organisations have gained maximum skills to undertake advocacy initiatives and provide motivation to ensure that advocacy work on youth issues is youth – led.
• Have established the basis for other organisations who might want to undertake similar venture in the future, as YJIA Research documents could serve as good resource materials for reference.