A room full of friendly-looking and lively police officers is not something one comes across quite often. But this unusual scenario was playing out for a whole week in Juba, where police officers from ten bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) met for an important training exercise.
“I’m learning how to handle children,” said Aja Ndey Begay Mbye, a UN Police Advisor from The Gambia, “how to interview children, how to go along with children, and to show the children that I am a mother.”
This explained their friendliness: they are the officers whose primary responsibility within the UN Mission is the protection of children. For the entire week, they learned about the best practices in performing their duties, from experts within the UN Police.
The lead trainer, Zimbabwean UN Police Advisor Jane Hasha Mavima, who lighted up the room with good cheer throughout the training session, explained what happened.
“We’re imparting to these officers how they’re going to handle a child as a witness, a child as a victim, and a child as the accused, under the rule of law,” she said, outlining some of the things contained in the training programme. “And also, they should observe human rights due diligence as they’ll be executing their duties,” she added.
Also, UNMISS Police Commissioner, Unaisi Lutu Vuniwaqa – the first woman to hold the post in the Mission – underscored the importance of the training:
“We see the importance of focusing on children, especially children as victims of crime, children as witnesses, and children as suspects as well,” she said, adding, “The need for us to promote their rights in the justice system, especially when we’re working with our counterparts here – the South Sudanese National Police – that we need to promote the rights of the children when they come into contact with the law.”
In the lively class, these police officers were keen to learn and to reinforce their knowledge and policing skills in their field of work.
They’ve come from the capital Juba, Malakal, Wau, Bor, Bentiu, Aweil, Kuajok, Rumbek, Torit, and Yambio, where Ugandan officer Julius Ogwang paints a distressing picture about the status of children.
“The situation of child protection in Yambio is not so good,” he said, adding, “because of the conflict which has been going on, and because of the HIV/AIDS scourge – you know Yambio is leading in South Sudan – so most of them have lost their parents, and they’re vulnerable,” he said, hoping to use the knowledge and skills from this training to help alleviate the children’s hardships.
From the training, these officers become trainers at their regional bases, imparting the same knowledge and skills to civilian and police officers who interact with children.
“I’m supposed to train the UN personnel on child protection; and also, to train the IDPs (internally displaced persons) and other actors, and the people of South Sudan,” said Gambian officer, Aja Ndey Begay Mbye.
The UNMISS Police Commissioner explained the significance of this ripple effect of training and imparting knowledge.
“It’s important for them to be able to go back to the states and be able to share the knowledge with other UNPOL (UN Police) so that it can be engendered into the work they do every day, as well as in the whole programmes they conduct with South Sudanese National Police.”
According to the Police Commissioner, this training recognizes that protection of civilians ought to go beyond general protection and pay more attention to the needs of vulnerable groups, which include women, children, and the elderly.
For the children of South Sudan, this training serves as a starting point of that focus.