Today, Claire Mosley and I spoke to juveniles in the holding cell before court. Aaron, one of the UP Zambia interns aided us in interviewing the juveniles in their native language of Nyanja. As we interviewed the juveniles it truly became apparent to me that these are just teens who in a split second made one bad decision. We have all made bad decisions, especially as children and teenagers.
It is part of being human.
Some of the juveniles did not look much older than 13 or 14. The sorrow on their faces as they told their story of how they slipped up was disturbing. It did not seem to me that the juveniles were, or currently are, a threat to society. Instead, after talking to juveniles it sounded like they had each made a bad choice.
One of the juveniles, Michael, has not had a guardian present for a few weeks now. Kabota, one of the UP Zambia interns believed that he had found the boy’s aunt after a few unsuccessful parent tracing adventures. Upon finding what he thought was Michael’s aunt, he informed her that she needed to attend court in order for Michael’s case to go forward and for him to have a chance at getting released from custody. Wednesday, the woman Kabota previously found was present, but upon arriving, she noticed that her nephew Michael was not the juvenile that was in custody. Unfortunately, for this Michael, this meant that he would have to remain in custody and his case would not go forward for yet another week since he did not have a guardian present.
The woman who was not the juvenile’s mother did make herself available after court to help sort out the guardian issue. The woman stated that she believed she could still be of aid and might know where the boy’s family lived. That evening after we got back to the office, Kabota received a phone call that the wrong women had found the correct guardian for the juvenile and gave her all the information for her to be able to attend court next week allowing Michael’s case to go forward.
This series of events led me to realize just how key the work of UP Zambia is to the entire juvenile criminal proceeding process. Without a guardian present, juveniles’ cases are limited in their ability to proceed. Without UP Zambia finding guardians for children and coaching juveniles up on what their rights are before they act as their own defense counsel (yes; often juveniles are unrepresented), the entire juvenile process would be bogged down even more than it is right now. Without UP Zambia absolutely no one would be working on behalf of these juveniles or attempting to ensure the fairest opportunity for them to turn their lives around after just one bad choice. Even in the midst of bad choices, if it were not for those around me who gave me unconditional love, encouragement, and a little kick in the butt to get moving in the right direction; I have no idea where I would be today. UP Zambia is all of the above and so much more, now they just need more hands to spread the work and love that is at the core of the program’s mission.
Post By: Sarah Beth Toben
Baylor Law School