In this new series, we explore many of the stories of the young people we serve. All too often, juveniles in the Zambian justice system are forgotten and left to face prison and legal proceedings alone. UP Zambia was created to ensure that these children's stories are heard and that they don't experience an uncertain future that they are unprepared to face. Thanks to UP Zambia, these are stories of hope.
Paul went to a local restaurant to watch a soccer match when he was approached by an older man who asked him to take a little money to go and buy cell phone minutes. Paul did as he was asked but had a difficult time finding a seller. When he finally managed to purchase the minutes, the game was nearly over. When he returned the man became enraged and accused Paul of attempting to steal his money. The older man became physical and soon a fight broke out. When police arrived on the scene the man accused Paul of stealing 1000 kwacha (nearly $100) even though no money could be found during the search. It became apparent that the older man was simply angry with Paul after the fight and wanted him to suffer a harsher penalty.
The police sided with the older man and arrested Paul. He pleaded not guilty to the charge of aggravated robbery and the case was adjourned for trial. Paul was held at Lusaka Central prison for more than 2 months awaiting court sessions. Although his parents were alerted right away, the charge of aggravated robbery is a non-bailable offense, meaning Paul was forced to stay in prison throughout the process. He was housed in the adult population in one of the most overcrowded facilities in Lusaka where it is not uncommon for more than 70 adult males to occupy one small sleeping space the size of a typical bedroom. Paul was denied proper healthcare, nutrition, and education during his incarceration and reported routine beatings by guards along with other harassment.
Eventually, the adult complainant attempted to withdraw the charges but was ignored by the court. At this point, UP Zambia was made aware of the situation and proceeded to aid Paul and his family in throwing out the case. Due to lack of witnesses and testimony by police, his court dates were continually delayed. Eventually, when the arresting officer again refused to appear in court, another officer attempted to give testimony but had not been present during the arrest and knew very little about the case. Although, it was readily apparent that Paul's case should be adjourned, the courts continued to delay judgement and he was held for several more weeks before being found not guilty. Paul was reunited with his family and has since dedicated himself to helping better the lives of juveniles in prison.
Unfortunately, Paul's story is far too common. Children and teens are regularly held without bail on charges with little evidence. Minors are more vulnerable to false allegations and corruption by police given scant resources and diminished ability to defend themselves within the justice system. Luckily, UP Zambia was able to bridge that gap for Paul and his family and helped give hope and support to him in prison.
You can hear more about Paul's experience in UP Zambia's latest video series where we explore how the failings of the juvenile justice system can disrupt young lives. Find other stories and videos by subscribing to UP Zambia's YouTube Channel!
Post by Carrie Russpatrick