Benin: Meet Norbert: Better protecting children to break Benin’s cycle of violence
8 December, Cotonou
(Benin) – “Violence
is the first inheritance of a child born within a violent family,” says Norbert
As director of a non-governmental organization called Solidarity for Children in Africa and the World (ESAM) he is trying to break Benin’s
vicious cycle of violence. The violence deeply engrained in this country starts
at home and in school with commonplace whipping, caning, slapping and other
uses of ill treatment against children and then extends to regular beatings to
force confessions out of suspected juvenile delinquents at police stations.
Benin ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 2006,
its criminal legislation still does not include the « principle of
absolute prohibition of torture », nor
state that executing orders from a superior is not a justification of torture, nor
forbid the use of confessions obtained through torture.
In 2007, in its second review of the
country’s implementation of the Convention the United Nations Committee Against
Torture had encouraged Benin to ensure the strict enforcement of legislation
prohibiting corporal punishment in
the family, schools and within institutions other than schools and to conduct awareness-raising
and educational campaigns to stop such violence.
however, have not improved that much since, especially with regards to children
in conflict with the law. These are especially
vulnerable, when in fact the State should grant them special measures to
prevent situations of risk, and safeguard their life and physical
In 2011, the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture –
which is currently visiting the country again – asked Benin to take steps to ensure that: “children are not
held in initial custody except as a genuinely last resort; they are held
separately from adults; their rights are fully and clearly explained to
children in a way that is readily understandable; a relative or trusted person
is immediately informed of the custody of the child concerned; no child is
subjected to questioning without the presence of a trusted adult; no child is
subjected to restraint while in a custody cell.”
Fighting violence with information,
dialogue and progress
Trained in banking
and human resources, Norbert, 64, is trying in a joint project of
ESAM with OMCT that involves monthly visits to civil prisons, regular trainings and meetings with
authorities, to disseminate such recommendations of the CAT, the SPT, and the
Convention on the Rights of the Child among all those dealing with children’s
justice and child delinquency – from lawyers, to magistrates, to policemen,
village chiefs, and to civil society.
“They all have to understand that children must spend the least time
possible in jail,” he says. “Only a few days in prison are enough to scar the
life of a child for ever; it’s a time bomb for society.”
Though judges are increasingly protective of children in Benin, in
particular thanks to the work of organizations such as Norbert’s and OMCT, the
discrepancy between child rights and their application is still too big, mainly
because of the State’s negligence in enforcing the law, according to him.
Though information sharing, training, and advocacy will constitute the
basic structure for aiding the protection of children’s rights, Norbert
believes that dialogue between children and their families, who tend to give up
on them too easily, is also a key factor to putting an end to the pervasive
recourse to violence in Benin.
Yet Norbert stresses that the onus is on the State to effectively punish
torturers and fight corruption and, more importantly still, address the
fundamental problem of fostering economic and social development in the country
without which prisons will continue to see new youths arriving. In Benin, over
47 per cent of the population was below
international poverty line of US$1.25 a day from 2007 to 2011, according to UNICEF.
“When you live in sheer poverty, you develop survival strategies, and
kids often think to themselves that at least in jail they’ll get a warm meal
every day,” says Norbert.
-- by Lori Brumat in Geneva
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