A new report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has revealed that at least 51 children were arrested and tortured by state security agents during the January crackdown that followed the nationwide protests of 14-16 January 2019.
Among those arrested, detained and tried after the January 2019 protests were children aged between 9 and 17 years. The children were brought before facing public violence charges.
More than 12 people were killed during the violent demonstrations after the army and police moved in to quell the violence which had escalated across the country.
According to the report dubbed 'Hear them Cry', there were arrests of minors across the country but there are known cases of children who were arrested were in Harare, Chitungwiza, Macheke and Bulawayo, mostly in dragnet arrests.
The report further states that the figures might have been more as there was no access to information since the government embarked on an internet shutdown.
"Torture and assault were recorded at the point of arrest, and on arrest, children were placed in police cells, bundled with adults. In some cases, children were over-detained, beyond the constitutionally stipulated 48 hours," the report claims.
"There could have been more children arrested in the more remote areas of the country, whose arrests were not capture
"As the access to information was restricted due to restricted movement and internet shutdown during part of the period, it was difficult to ascertain in real time what was transpiring in all the parts of the country," reads part of the report.
Of concern is that most children were held in captivity as pre-trial detention was the standard for all children arrested, with one spending 10 days at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, in contravention of national laws that prohibit pre-trial detention except under specified circumstances and only as a measure of last resort.
14 children were detained at Khami Prison in Bulawayo after their initial appearance in court but were later released after their birth certificates were produced in court.
In spite of children being victims of the economic and political decay that caught them in the cross-fire of protests in one way or another, children's treatment in the criminal justice system violated international and domestic standards and norms, signalling a spectacular retrogression in the advancement of the rights of children in conflict with the law.
In Its recommendations, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said the justice system must have specific systems and procedures to follow in dealing with children arrested in time of conflict and mass arrests.
"The juvenile justice system must remain intact even in times of crisis. Childhood and youthfulness of the accused must not be diminished on account of a context of conflict
"The Judicial Service Commission (JSC), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and every role player in the justice delivery system must be activated to protect the best interests of children," organisation said.
It further called on the police and courts to observe legal restrictions regarding pre-trial detention of children.
"There is a need to have specialist courts dealing with children's cases in the criminal courts. These courts will have specialist magistrates and prosecutors, who understand child justice processes and systems. A similar model of Children's Courts in the civil court system or the Victim Friendly Court System could be adopted," the organisation said.