404 minors in conflict with the law and 83 small children between 0 and 3 (end of April 2012 – figures from the General Department of Prison Affairs) are in prison in Burundi today. Detained amongst the adults, contrary to all respect of international standards, they do not benefit from any privileged conditions. The prisons are in a way run by the prisoners themselves: the police are certainly present, but outside the walls and bars. The prisoners must therefore deal with their own safety themselves. The Terre des hommes delegation in Burundi watches that the rights of young people in prison are respected, at a level of their legal procedures, their lives in the prison and for their social and job reintegration.
So that the prisoners are left to their own devices as little as possible, the Burundi prison authorities have set up a system of prisoners’ militia. In this way, Frank*, 25 years old (he was 18, according to his dossier, when he was arrested 7 years ago, and was tried as being of age; he should, however, have been tried as an minor), was nominated by the young prisoners and then chosen by the prison authorities as ‘General for the Minors’ in Mpimba prison. Made up of other prisoner-guardians, Frank relies on this militia to ensure a part of the security of the youngsters when they are together with adult detainees during the day, and when they go back to the dormitories reserved for minors in the evening. But Frank also plays the role of mediator between the prison authorities and the prisoners: he deals with all negotiations and represents the young prisoners.
On 16th June, the International Day of African Children, Frank had the chance to speak to the Minister of Justice, the Minister for Youth and Sport and several magistrates, and to say thank you for the work of Tdh: “We are grateful to Terre des hommes for getting us defence lawyers, for giving us drums, and for all the innumerable things you do.” After acknowledging the efforts of government representatives and asking the other guests present to continue to support them, Frank briefly described the situation in which these prisoners live: “Our biggest problems are mainly with delays in legal procedures and court appearances. We also request an operational Brigade for minors. In prison we are entitled to 350g flour and 350g beans a day. You yourselves can understand that this is not enough for growing adolescents.”
Frank has been imprisoned for the past 7 years and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars. According to our information, his age was overestimated. We believe he was under age when arrested and should have been treated as a minor in conflict with the law. His dossier being classified amongst the adults and not the minors, Terre des hommes may not take charge of his case.
*Name changed to protect the person.