THE Office of the Public Defender (OPD) under the Lagos State Ministry of Justice on Monday said that it had secured the release of 250 underage children from prisons, police stations and correctional homes in the state in the last one year.
“Since 2016 till date, we have secured the release of 250 children.
“The office secured the release of 150 children last year and 50 children this year,” Mrs Olubukola Salami, the Director of the office told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
Salami said that the office achieved this through an ongoing Programme on Children in Conflict with the Law, a sponsored project of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
She said that OPD was attentive to the socio-economic rights of the poor and vulnerable groups in the society, including women and children in conflict with the law.
“When we visited some police stations and prisons, we found there underage children below the age of 18 and we all know the deplorable state of our cells and prisons.
“Even in the correctional homes meant for children that are beyond parental control, we found children who were in conflict with the law being accommodated here.
“The mandate of the Programme on Children in Conflict with the Law is to secure the release of these underage children who have committed one offence or the other,” she said.
Salami said that the police was one of the contributory factors as they increased the normal ages of such children and detained them in police cells or prisons.
She said the OPD was planning a training and enlightenment programme for the police on how to handle cases of children in conflict with the law.
“The police will be empowered as stipulated in the Child Rights Law to restitute and mediate when it comes to cases concerning underage children. Detention should be the last resort,” Salami said.
She said that they would be collaborating with law firms and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out continuous visits to prisons, police stations and correctional homes to provide legal aid to children in conflict with the law.
“We will be partnering interested law firms and NGOs so that we can sustain this programme because UNICEF will not always be there,” Salami said.