Parliament to discuss juvenile law amendments [Archives:2008/1124/Local News]

January 28 2008

Hamed Thabet
SANA'A, Jan 26 ) A discussion about preserving children's rights in Juvenile Court will be held in the coming Parliament session in order to change Yemeni laws to better benefit children.

Dr. Afrah Badoweilan, the head of the juvenile courts system in Yemen, along with some children's rights organizations and parliament members, is trying to change how the criminal court will protect and care for juvenile offenders. After Parliament approves the changes, a parliamentary committee will take on the responsibility of amending child-specific court processes, she said.

Articles to be discussed include article 38, which specifies that a juvenile offender is a child under the age of 18, and article 37, which details that a child found guilty of any serious offense must serve a prison sentence between three to 10 years instead of execution. (Executions cannot be carried out until the child reaches the age of 18 in any case.) If a child under the age of 15 commits any crime, even one of the gravest nature, the sentence will be no longer than three years in prison.

“All children up to the age of 18 should be represented under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court,” said Badoweilan. She added that 15-year olds are currently tried in the first time offenders' court, which she feels is wrong, because Yemen's government signed a law in 1991 to ensure that all offenders under the age of 18 are considered juveniles.

Even though the death penalty cannot legally be carried out for anyone under the age of 18, Badoweilan said that sometimes executions happen anyway, since many people do not have any proof of their age. In these cases, the judge alone must decide whether or not to believe if the defendant is under 18 or not.

“A child cannot be sent to prison for just any charge. In addition, if a child is arrested, he should be sent to a rehabilitation and protection center. We are insistent about this amendment, as a disturbed child must be well-cared for and given special treatment to solve his problems in order to make a change for the better, instead of totally destroying his life,” said Badoweilan.

Badoweilan and her supporters also support amendments assuring that any person involved in endangering a child, such as forcing the child to steal, or commit other illegal activity, should have to pay a penalty of at least 20,000 YR or more, plus serve a jail term up to a maximum of three years. The children's rights supporters also think that there should be a penalty of 100,000 Y.R for anyone who publishes the name, photo, or court proceedings of a child.

Another amendment, article 15, says that there must be a juvenile court in every governorate. Juvenile cases will be sent to each governorate's Court of First Instance only if that governorate's court cannot convene because it lacks enough juvenile cases.

“There are lawyers who specialize in juvenile cases. These lawyers are supported by the government and the Ministry of Justice so that they may devote their time to helping deprived children,” Badoweilan said. “They also get many training courses for free, which teach them the right way to handle juvenile cases.” In the past, judges in Yemen were not qualified to rule on children's cases, but Badoweilan said that there is now one specialized judge in each juvenile court in the entire governorate, with two specialized experts next to the judge.

Each juvenile court includes a judge with two social workers, one of whom must be a woman. This is an important feature, since more and more girls are being tried in juvenile court each year. Badoweilan mentioned that some girls find it difficult to talk to a male lawyer about their problems, so the presence of a woman expert is crucial to their defense.

Article 34 mandates that no legal fee can be imposed on a child for his/her case, even if the child is found guilty. In the national prison, located in Sana'a, there is a special facility for juveniles that provides services like education and healthcare, and ensures that juveniles do not mix with other adult prisoners. Though many Arab countries still lack specialized juvenile court advocates, Yemen has special laws, courts and judges for children.