The juvenile justice system in Zambia relies heavily on court appearances of parents or guardians for an accused juvenile. A parent or guardian must be present in court for the juvenile’s case to proceed. If no one is there the court will adjourn to a later date and hope that someone will show up next week for the individual. This is when UP Zambia will step in and conduct parent tracing to find and tell the parents that they need to be in court for their child.
During my time in Zambia, I came across two individuals who were in court but had not had a parent present. After speaking with both of them, Doria (Northrise Intern) and myself, concluded that the children had no way to contact their parents and let them know that they were even arrested. This meant that the children either did not know their parents phone numbers or the parents did not have a phone. Also, the children did not know the street address of where they lived. All they could do was tell us specifics on how to find the parents and who in the compounds we could ask for help when looking for the parents. This usually meant getting the names of the most well-known people as well as descriptions and colors of buildings or landmarks to help us find the parents.
Along our search for the parents, Doria and I were accompanied by Mwingi, who works at UP Zambia. Mwingi is an absolute professional at parent tracing. Searching for the parents is a very daunting task because you are generally always in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. What makes it harder is that the local citizens are very skeptical of why you are in their compound and looking for someone’s parents. It especially doesn’t help when there is a tall white man following who cannot speak the local language. However, I found it helpful to try to interact with the local children to show that there was no reason to be scared of me and that I was truly friendly and just trying to help by finding the parents. It was always nice to see the little kids follow us around and be curious of why we were there, so I would stop and crouch down to try to say hi to them and give them high fives. I would also do my best to try to say hi in the local language. This seemed to make everyone feel a little more comfortable and allowed us to actually get help from the local people to find the juveniles parents.
Once, we found the juvenile’s parents, which we were two for two on parent tracing, we informed them their child was in the remand prison in Lusaka and was waiting for a parent to show up to court to deal with their case. What made me so happy about finding both of these parents was the fact that both juveniles would eventually be released. One child was going to have his charges dropped and the other was going to be let out on bail. This was a big win for team Kamwala. Although, the juveniles weren’t physically released while I was there, knowing that their parents are now aware of what’s going on and when they need to be in court next is a great feeling. If UP Zambia was not doing parent tracing, the juveniles would theoretically be sitting in remand prison waiting for trial for over a year. Now, because of a few hours of our time, the children will be able to proceed in court and will be released back home with their parents or guardians.