The incarceration of children brings Somaliland into disrepute

For all the many challenges that a state such as Somaliland faces, it is important to appreciate that much has been achieved thus far, whilst plenty remains to be done. Those who walk the corridors of accountability whether as ministers or those charged with shaping present and future policy must be particularly mindful of the need to exercise due care and attention. One of the greatest dangers for any nation is complacency, coupled with a poverty of aspiration. It is essential that government and municipal officials strive to deliver in a manner that demonstrates professionalism, efficiency and transparency. The nature of service is such that all roles benefit from scrutiny and constructive criticism as no one is beyond reproach.

When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in society there needs to be an even greater willingness to ask questions of those in safeguarding roles. The duty of care in respect of children, the physically and mentally disabled, mothers, the elderly and those being held in custody by the state must not be abdicated. Similarly, the Government has a responsibility to protect all citizens and that includes Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), refugees and the homeless.

Tragically there are some on the margins of society, invariably through no fault of their own, especially of homeless children, who are routinely neglected or discriminated against. These very individuals who the Government and Society should be protecting, are often seen as suspect, treated with disdain and shown precious little empathy, let alone compassion for their plight. Rather than seeking to understand their situation and provide practical assistance, such children are routinely demonised, labelled as thieves, trouble makers and drug addicts and harassed and threatened by officialdom. Where is their voice? Where are their rights? Do such children not have the right to food, shelter and an education? How are they treated if they ask for their rights?

As if the situation were not serious enough there are legitimate concerns that street children in Somaliland are being arrested, arraigned before courts without proper legal representation and given custodial sentences. Moreover, as Somaliland has no juvenile detention facilities these vulnerable children and youths are sent to adult prisons such as Mandheera Prison where they are at serious risk of assault. Such conduct by the authorities is not only deeply disturbing but falls well below internationally accepted norms. It is right and proper that local and international NGOs and others seek answers about the precise numbers, ages and whereabouts of such children, as well as the charges against them and the precise nature of any so-called rehabilitation programmes that they may be subject to. Alarmingly there is also evidence that certain officials have endeavoured to try and deflect criticism of these incarcerations by claiming that those who voice concerns are politically motivated, such a response is thoroughly reprehensible.

It is imperative that the Ministry of Children demonstrates leadership and transparency on issues of this nature. It is simply not good enough for children to be rounded up, labelled as glue-sniffers and moral deviants and rushed through the courts and given custodial sentences under the guise that they are being ‘rehabilitated’. What is being perpetrated is a human wrong, one that warrants searching questions and immediate action. For children, many of them orphans, to be treated in this manner is little short of a national scandal, one that is a stain on Somaliland’s good name.

Mark T. Jones

Twitter: @marktjones500