By Ellen Samura
Twenty-four children between the age bracket of 12 and 17 were arrested on August 10 in connection with the violent protests which took place in Freetown and some other parts of the northwest region, says David Maurice Panda-Noah (photo), minister of Internal Affairs.
The minister was speaking today at a press briefing organised in collaboration with the ministries of Social Welfare, Information and Communications, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Sierra Leone Police.
According to Panda-Noah, these juveniles were arrested within the “theatre of violence” and have since been kept in the custody of the Family Support Unit (FSU).
It was stated that these children took active part in the deadly protests which left several dead and dozens more injured, with some public buildings either completely vandalised or razed, but the specific criminal conduct by these children, if any, has not yet been determined.
It should be noted that rights groups had earlier raised concerns about the protection and security of children during violent conflicts and crisis situations.
Social media footages of the events of August 10 show that, in the northern town of Binkolo, children were put in harm’s way and used as human shields by duty-bearers who were supposed to protect them from abuse and exploitation. Whilst the minister affirmed government’s commitment to follow the legislative and policy framework that deal with juvenile offenders, he has nonetheless called on parents and guardians to come forward and identify their children, promising that they would not be arrested.
Section 17 (3) of the 1991 Constitution stipulates that any person arrested or detained on suspicion of committing a crime shall be brought before a court of competent jurisdiction within ten days in cases of capital offences and within 72 hours in case of other offences. It is expected that the government will comply with these constitutional requirements or rather grant the unconditional release of the children as stipulated by the constitution.