The High Court in Nyeri has ordered a compensation of Sh200,000 each to four minors who were detained at the Naromoru Police Station, citing the police action as a breach of the children’s constitutional rights.
In the judgement delivered by Justice Jesse Njagi, the court ruled that the arrest and detention of the minors, who were below the age of 10 years, contravened the Children Act and resulted in psychological torture.
Given their immature ages, the judge said that the minors could not have been charged with any crime.
“The Act is clear on how minors who come into conflict with the law should be handled. Detention should always be a last resort when no other solutions are available,” ruled Justice Njagi.
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The minors, aged between four and 10 years, were arrested and detained at the Naromoru Police Station on December 17, 2017 for stealing scrap metals from a construction site belonging to a local.
The complainant, upon finding them in his property, put them in his vehicle and ferried them to the police station, where they were detained for 18 hours.
The arrest and detention, the minors’ parents said, violated their children’s rights.
In the suit in which the two parents have sued the Attorney General (AG), Inspector General of Police (IG), Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the owner of the construction site as the first, second, third and fourth respondents respectively, they accuse them of failing to protect their children as a special vulnerable group in the society.
One of the parents- who is a mother to a four-year-old boy narrated to the court how on the fateful day at around 5.30 pm, she was informed by one of the residents that her son was among the four children who had been found at a compound of a construction site and arrested by the owner.
“On arriving at the site, I found the children already in the vehicle of the complainant and so I decided to follow them to the police station that they were being taken to,” she says in court documents.
At the police station, she says the complainant was asked to record a statement as her four-year-old son was booked into a cell.
The mother says that she pleaded with the police officers to release her child since he was of a tender age but they refused.
“One of the officers slapped the minors and placed me together with them at the cells,” she says.
After being detained, the police officers, along with the construction site owner, left saying that they were going to search for the 'actual thief, leaving them in the cold cells with no food or bedding.The police only returned at around 7pm.
She says adding that the children endured long hours without food since they were fed at around 10 pm.
The second parent, a father to three of the arrested children aged five, seven and 10 years old, shared his similar harrowing experience to the court.
He informed the court that learned of the incident around 5:30 pm.Upon going to the police station to negotiate bail for the minors, he was told that it was only the Officer Commanding Station (OCS) and the complainant who could authorize their release.
After unsuccessful negotiations, he returned home to fetch sweaters for the children and returned with his wife and several neighbours for support.
“I had hoped their presence would persuade the police to release our children. Instead, we were accused of creating disturbance at the police station,” he says, adding that an officer slapped him, arrested him and detained him in the cells.
However, by around 2pm the following day, they were all released without charges after the complainant withdrew the complaint.
In response to the suit, the then Officer Commanding Station of Naromoru Police Station Chief Inspector George Odongo, denied the claims against the police officers.
He said that the minors’ arrest was lawful as they were caught stealing assorted pieces of metal from the complainant’s property.
The chief inspector noted, “The complainant reported that he did not know the parents of the children and the children themselves also declined to reveal who their parents were.”
Consequently, he said that the minors were booked as children in need of care and protection.
Clarifying further, he told the court that due to the absence of designated children’s cells, the minors were placed in unoccupied women’s cells. They were given a mattress and warm beddings.
The chief inspector stated that the minors’ parents arrived at the station late and enraged, which complicated the release of the children.
He said that the mother of the four-year-old boy, showed up at around 7:30 pm, demanding to see the son. Meanwhile, the father of the three other detained minors, arrived at around 10pm while drunk.
“His behavior caused a commotion at the station leading to his detention,” the chief Inspector added.
But Justice Njagi in his decision refuted the evidence by the police, pointing out discrepancies in their account.
He questioned the OCS’s version of events citing that an Occurrence Book (OB) extract provided before the court showed that father of the three minors was detained 'while appearing normal- as indicated in the document.
“Furthermore, the judge said that the officers responsible for the parents’ and children's arrests did not record a statement nor did they testify before the court in the suit.
He criticised the police’s overreliance on the testimony of the OCS, who, according to the judge, was not present during the arrests and did not disclose the source of his information to the court.
The judge noted that the allegation by one of the parents that she followed the complainant to the police station, was not denied by the police.
“Therefore the police cannot claim that they were unaware of the children’s parents’ contact details, especially when one parent was already at the station during her minor’s detention,” said Justice Njagi adding that there was also no counterclaim by police that one of its officers slapped each of the minors before detaining them.