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Youth Justice

April 5, 2018
#Career Manenoz
April 5, 2018



The project reaches out to those ‘at risk’ (gangs, youth in risky areas, vulnerable youth, drug-addicted youth or those in that environment), those in places of safety and institutions of correctional services, as well as those in the reintegration phase. Involving life skills, personal development, victim-offender dialogues, reintegration and awareness-raising, the programme has a huge success rate.

Youth Justice Phase 1

Between 2015 and 2017, YMCAs in Zambia, Togo and South Africa, the YWCA in Zambia with partnership from YMCA/YWCA of Sweden altogether implemented a 3 year Youth Justice project. The basis for this project was to address the challenges facing young people in either in conflict with the law or those at risk of getting into conflict with the law in the three countries.

The project was conducted in the backdrop setting that Juvenile justice in Africa is a relatively new research area. It was not until the early sixties that research began to be published. Initially, the study of Juvenile delinquency – as it has been frequently referred – was focussed on the cultural and emotional reasons why young people commit crimes. With time and more research, the study of youth and crime expanded to cover and examine socio-economic realities faced by young people as a key factor affecting youth justice. These realities have come to include situations of youth both in and out of prison, and to also cover rehabilitation and post-incarceration activities and programmes.

There is evidence that poor access to education and lack of sustainable income opportunities predispose young people to being in conflict with the law. The YMCA has over a period of time sought to address these challenges by providing access to alternative opportunities for Vocational training, skills acquisition and on the job preparedness. The South Africa YMCA, for example, have been preparing post-detainee youth to be better adjusted to long-term job opportunities specifically as a strategy to address high rates of recidivism that are reported in the country.

With rates about 70% and 80% in Togo and South Africa respectively, Recidivism is a tremendously daunting challenge. Many prisons in Africa do not operate as rehabilitative centres but are instead havens for illegal drugs, gang crime, violence and even murder. Many of the youth who leave these facilities end up back for various reasons, one of which is stigma and discrimination attached to having served time in prison. The situation is exacerbated by an apparent dearth of funding for and policy weaknesses in implementing rehabilitative and post-release services.

The YMCA/YWCA partners implementing the project adopted a Theory of Change that was based on the Subject to Citizen (S2C) Philosophy of empowering youth to move from being subjects in oppressive systems to being active citizens whose voice is heard, who have space to act and who can influence their communities. This ensured that the basis for intervention was based on a conceptual framework that could be tested and that this project would be a prototype of engaging in youth work for youth in conflict with the law.

Youth Justice Phase 2

Phase two will be implemented in partnership with Sweden YWCA/YMCA and four National Movements: Togo YMCA, South Africa YMCA and newcomers Senegal YMCA and Madagascar YMCA. There was a start-up meeting in Togo for the two new national movements to learn the experiences from SA YMCA and Togo YMCA because they were in phase 1 of the project.

The main objective of the project is: Youth in conflict with the law and those at risk of offending have taken steps towards active citizenship in all program countries during the program period.


  • As a result of legal clubs established in prisons in South Africa, Togo and Zambia:
  • 13 031 inmates benefitted from awareness raising on their rights during arrest, during the pre-trial period, and after their trials
  • 390 had the opportunity to go to trial and were sentenced
  • 264 were released;
  • Victim-offender dialogues were established; and
  • Reintegration of inmates leaving prison, with families and communities took place.


  • Togo YMCA improved inmates’ right to health in prisons through advocacy. Togo YMCA was also engaged in human rights monitoring in prisons. While advocating for better treatment of street children, the South Africa YMCA became aware of a national policy of equal treatment for all at government health clinics. There was a procedure in place to report clinics abusing this law and the YMCA was able to use that law and policy to change the attitudes of clinic staff. A second policy which relates to all children under the age of 16 is required to attend formal schooling was identified. The YMCA then began advocating for government to provide financial and logistical support for all street children under 16 who were in their care to receive free education, and this is ongoing.
  • YOUTH JUSTICE LEARNINGS Some of the learnings of the past three years have been documented as knowledge management. For example, the South Africa YMCA worked with 114 ex-offenders up to the end of December 2017 with a zero percent recidivism rate against a national average of 80%. This is a significant success and so the first question asked is, “How did the YMCA do it?”
  • Through interviews, data analysis and volunteer interviews, the following three key learnings emerged:
    • The intervention should start while the individual is in prison, usually about 12 months prior to their release;
    • All participants in the programme are treated with dignity; Not always easy because offenders and ex-offenders are tough and crafty; and
    • The process of reintegration begins with reconciliation between the offender/ex-offender's family and community.
    • If these three components are included in the intervention the chance of success increases dramatically. Further, Y-Justice II is transforming many of the safe spaces into PowerSpaces