Fears are growing that Uganda’s criminal justice system is facing challenges when it comes to verifying the ages of individuals involved in criminal cases. Some individuals accused of serious crimes are claiming to be juveniles to avoid harsher penalties, leading to concerns about the system’s integrity.
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, a child is defined as a person under the age of 18, and the minimum age of criminal responsibility is set at 12 years old. This means that before someone is charged with a crime, it must be proven that they are 18 or older to avoid placing them in the adult criminal justice system.
Probation officers have reported isolated cases where individuals who appeared to be adults physically were initially considered juveniles. These cases can be confusing because the physical appearance of a 17, 18, or 19-year-old may be similar depending on their background and genetics.
One instructive case involves Elias Ejoku, a candidate in the Soroti mayoral race, who was attacked and later died. Medical examinations produced conflicting results regarding the ages of the suspects involved, highlighting the challenges in age determination.
Legal provisions in Uganda state that a death sentence should not be given to individuals under the age of 18, but discrepancies in age assessment can lead to incorrect sentencing.
The accuracy of age determination is further complicated by the lack of comprehensive birth registration in Uganda. National ID cards and birth certificates are essential for confirming a person’s age, but inconsistencies in records can occur.
When age is in doubt, authorities use various methods to establish it, including documentary evidence, testimonies from parents or community members, school records, baptism certificates, and medical assessments. However, medical assessments, like X-ray images of bones, may provide estimates rather than precise ages due to factors such as medication use or malnutrition.
The importance of accurate age determination is underscored by Police Form 24, which documents the age and health status of individuals in custody. Without this form, individuals may not qualify for juvenile justice procedures, even if they are young.
Disputes over age determination can arise, as seen in the case of Elias Ejoku, leading to further examinations to establish the correct age.
Such discrepancies may be due to errors in conducting medical assessments or, in some cases, unethical practices. Ensuring proper training and adherence to standards can help address these issues in age determination.