Student Perspective

Parent Tracing 101 – Claire Mosley

A big part of the juvenile justice system here in Zambia requires the presence of the juvenile’s parents and/or legal guardian. When a juvenile’s case is called one of the first things the judge asks is whether the parent or legal guardian is present. With no parent or guardian present when called, there is no possibility of bail for the child or for the proceedings to commence. So, the juvenile goes back to the remand prison that holds over 1,000 inmates, even though it was designed to hold just 400.

This is where UP Zambia steps in, and where our first experience as interns “parent tracing” begins.

When I first heard the words “parent tracing” the task sounded like a cross between the times I had spent playing spies at recess in elementary school and gathering information on potential interviewees on Facebook and Linkedin at one of my past summer internships. The task sounded mysterious- yet exciting.

Our first stop in parent tracing was Kamwala Remand Prison. It turns out that the juvenile whose guardians we were trying to find had been in Kamwala for about 3 months with each of the juvenile’s hearings being adjourned because no guardian was able to be present. The juvenile still had not entered a plea. Like many kids, this juvenile’s case had been stifled by the ability to find his legal guardians.

Therefore, UP Zambia asked for a removal warrant. This is a warrant that allows UP Zambia to take the juvenile, along with a police officer, and a social worker, out of the prison and guided by the juvenile’s instructions find his home. Here are some helpful tips that we learned along the way and recommend for any future interns that find themselves tasked with “parent tracing.”

1)    Practice a couple of phrases in Nyanja.

Most of the children in the remand prisons will be able to understand and speak some English. However, the local language in Lusaka is Nyanja- and the further outside the city you get, the more likely you will be able to find the juvenile’s guardians if you know some Nyanja. While some of our group was riding in the car with the juvenile, they were able to get to know him better and to open up by practicing a couple of greetings we had learned in Nyanja.

Over the past two weeks, all it takes is a couple of Mzungus trying to speak Nyanja to crack a smile on a juvenile or adult’s face and end up being received warmly by the generous and friendly people here in Zambia.

By breaking the ice, on the drive to the juvenile’s house, the group of interns was able to speak genuinely with the juvenile to learn the particulars about the offence he was charged with, his current living conditions in Kamwala, and ultimately advise him about his options of a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty” and the various consequences.

 2)    A car with 4-wheel drive is a necessity.

Most of the children that end up in Kamwala are from compounds, or communities, in and around the outskirts of Lusaka. While the majority of roads inside the city of Lusaka are paved, when heading out to the compounds, you will find yourself on a dry, dusty, and rocky road. As we headed towards the outskirts of Lusaka following the child’s lead, it became clear that we brought the wrong car. Fortunately, it was only later in the week in a more populated area when we would get our first flat tire driving on these rocky roads.

As resilient as our fellow Zambian law interns are, one can only be as resilient as their car when parent tracing leads you to a small community in the bush. Luckily, this was not the first of many parent tracing missions that had led our fearless interns and drivers into these small communities outside of Lusaka and they were able to maneuver rocks, potholes, and people, like champions.

 3)    Wear CASUAL clothes.

When parent tracing it is essential that you wear very casual clothes. Not only will you find yourself in places where there are varying levels of poverty, but you may find yourself with orange toes and legs from the dust courtesy of the dry season if closed-toe shoes and pants are not worn. In addition, it is important to dress casually in order not to alarm the communities. It is common for police officers, or other enforcement officers to be dressed professionally.

It is important to remember that you are entering a community usually with instructions of the juvenile who may not know his or her actual address or have one. You may have to ask around for the parents or guardians of ________, and try to get the most accurate information as possible while being respectful of the sensitivity of the matter. Nor do you want to overwhelm the parents/guardian’s who may be worried, scared, or anxious if they don’t know that their child has been taken to Kamwala or if you are really there to help them.

 4)    Pack a light lunch

Parent tracing can take 30 minutes or it may take 4 hours. Our experience was the latter. Working with juveniles is tricky, especially if you are trying to help a child that has been separated from their parents remember exactly which roads lead to their community, and other streets or houses that all look very similar. Our journey began by heading down one of the main roads in Lusaka, and then about an hour and a couple of wrong turns later venturing into one of the many dirt roads to find the juvenile’s house.

Upon finding the juvenile’s home, the real investigating and interviewing begins. Upon arriving at the juvenile’s home, we then had to locate his guardians. Luckily, it was around lunchtime and the juvenile’s guardians and siblings were home. However, this isn’t always the case. If UP Zambia is unable to get a phone number of a guardian because the child is unsure of the number, it truly is a game of cat and mouse. Most of the interns try to go parent tracing in the afternoon or around lunch to have better odds at finding the guardian’s at home or back from venturing to the store or into town for work.

Upon finding the guardian’s, the UP Zambia team then goes on to explain the situation. They get information about the child’s family, inform them of the charges against their child, the status of their case, and stress the importance that they make it to court for their child’s next hearing. Sometimes parents are relieved because they had no idea where their child had gone. Sometimes they know that their child has been arrested, however, they didn’t know about the necessity of their presence in court, how to get there, or maybe have the money to make the journey if they live far away.

 5)    Bring a soccer ball.

This suggestion is mainly for those missions of parent tracing with a couple of Mzungus tagging along. We would like to thank the UP Zambia team for their patience and grace for letting us tag along although it can be a bit of a distraction when it comes to translating.

When we reached the juvenile’s home, his siblings had just gotten out of school and were returning home for the afternoon. Because we were there talking to the family about a serious matter, and in the company of a police officer, interns, a social worker, and 4 girls- it was a bit overwhelming for the family. We decided to get to know the other siblings outside of the house so the parents could have some privacy to talk about the situation of their child. When playing or getting to know children, there is truly no other game like soccer, or football, where no language barrier exists and brings people together.

Therefore, we highly recommend bringing a soccer ball and enjoy having your 8th-grade soccer skills being put to shame by children below the age of 8.

 6)    Enjoy the ride and the company

While parent tracing, don’t forget to take some time and get to know your fellow passengers and see the sights right outside your window as well. For us, parent tracing has been a way to get to see the different sides of Lusaka, get to know our fellow interns, and the juveniles and their families as well.

Parent tracing is more than just a mission or a way to explore the city. It is essential to making sure justice is served for these children. Regardless of where a juvenile comes from or the reason they find themselves in court, when UP Zambia goes parent tracing these juveniles have an advocate and hope. They need UP Zambia. As a group, we are lucky to find ourselves among the next generation of leaders who are selflessly chasing after justice for juveniles and filling in the gaps.

Thank you UP Zambia!

The juvenile’s case in this story is being called again the following week. With the assurance that his parents will be able to make it, we are hopeful that he will be released and begin counseling as an alternative for the offense the juvenile allegedly committed. This will end his four-month stay in Kamwala remand prison that, without the help of UP Zambia, could have meant the child stayed in the remand prison- awaiting a proper sentencing and trial- for a long time.

Post By:  Claire Mosley
Baylor Law School