This chapter draws from a larger study titled ‘Achieving child-friendly justice’ in Africa. The study aimed to assess the state of child friendly justice in Africa. Part of the work sought to explore the extent to which children encounter informal justice systems in juvenile justice, child protection, family law matters, and as victims of criminal offences. Although reflecting mostly on the paucity of literature available, the work was bolstered by seven country studies which were undertaken in parallel with the preparation of the main work, which contribute to the understanding of children's contact with informal justice systems. The characteristics of informal justice processes are discussed, as well as the reasons for communities’ continued reliance on them, in preference to formal justice systems. The challenges facing the implementation of children's rights principles in informal justice processes is scrutinised. Finally conclusions and recommendations for strengthening the linkages between formal and informal justice systems, and for infusing a more child rights orientation, are put forward.
Africans perceive conflict as the motor and engine of relationships. This is because it is impossible to speak of a relationship without conflict and it is impossible to speak of conflict without a relationship. Being a social phenomenon, the general intention of conflict resolution … is to mend broken or damaged relationships, rectify wrongs, and restore justice and harmony between individuals, families and the community at large. The traditional concept of conflict resolution is to reconcile and make peace between disputing parties, ensure the reintegration of the disputing parties into the society and to promote co-operation and harmony between them that may help improve their relationship.
The continued use of informal justice mechanisms must be seen in both historical and contemporary contexts. Sidelined and regarded as backward during the colonial era, informal justice systems were regarded as an impediment to development. Upon liberation from colonial rule, it was thought that they would simply die out. However, for reasons set out below, this did not occur and they continued to form the backbone of access to justice for citizens in an estimated 70 per cent to 90 per cent of instances, according to some sources.