Josphat Njobvu

Ashoka Fellow
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Fellow Since 2015
This description of Josphat Njobvu's work was prepared when Josphat Njobvu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015 .


Josphat is transforming the justice system in Zambia from a punitive to a restorative paradigm through a multi-stakeholder community approach that combines policy advocacy and programmatic implementation of Community Correction Centres (CCC)-Building Lives for Children in conflict with the law and at Risk.

The New Idea

Through his organization, Advocacy for Child Justice (ACJ), Josphat has pioneered a practical model for dealing with children especially those who commit petty crimes, by creating a parallel structure of children reformation under a program called Community Correction Centers-Building Lives. The idea is to showcase a community based model of effective reformation which focuses on positive behavioral changes without isolating a child offender from his family, community and other support systems. Working with the judiciary-courts, Prisons, Department of social welfare, police stations as referral points, petty offenders are diverted from prisons to Community Correctional Centers-Building Lives project where they undergo a needs-based reformation and restorative program.

As part of the reformation process, professionals like social workers, psychologists and educators facilitate behavioral change and community reintegration. The program also includes a strong support network comprised of the offender’s family, friends and community members to encourage the individual to reflect upon his behavior and make positive life choices. Since education is a very important aspect of the program, ‘back to school’ reintegration with in-house after school academic support is offered as part of each child’s reformation plan.

The justice system, through the police, safeguards the process by closely monitoring the progress of each participant and engaging in decision making processes—together with the Department of Social Welfare and ACJ—about how to proceed with the reformation plan. The CCC-Building Livesalso doubles as drop-in centers for play and socialization thereby enabling the program to reach at-risk youth by causing behavioral changes.

Another arm of Josphat’s strategy is advocacy. ACJ advocates for changes in the Zambian constitution, laws and policies guiding the Child justice system to ensure that they incorporate and recognize child rights and justice. Under this program, Josphat works with in-house and volunteer legal experts whose primary focus is to analyze laws, policies and processes within the justice system in order to expose child rights infringements and gaps. Through consultancy, research and advocacy, the program influences policy formulation to ensure that the government puts in place legal instruments (laws and policies) which recognize child rights. Through these legal instruments, the justice system can be held accountable for child rights infringements. For the past three years, ACJ’s advocacy work has focused on three child related pieces of legislation and policies the panel code, Prison Act, the Juvenile Act and the National Child Policy. These policies create a supportive environment for the establishment of CCC-Building Lives and ensure that the rights of children already in the system are safeguarded. The program has contributed to the formulation of the Administration of Child Justice Bill embedded in child code, which laws will repeal the current Juvenile Act and other child related laws which has been adopted by the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) and will be tabled in parliament sometime this year 2015. . Once approved, the Bill will replace the current Juvenile Act and will legitimize the CCC-Building Lives model as part of Zambia’s Child Justice System as part of diversion laws at community level—among other policy changes.

Two new ventures with ACJ are the Legal Desk and Early Childhood Care and Development Education (ECCDE). Recognizing the significant delays in the justice system especially for children from poor families and disadvantaged communities, Josphat pioneered another program under ACJ called the Legal Desk. The idea is to put the justice process on the fast-track by cutting down the amount of time children spend waiting in holding cells for sentencing. ACJ has legal desks in the five main provincial prisons of Zambia manned by volunteer legal practitioners and para-legals. The legal practitioners take-on all Children cases referred to the prisons to fast track them through the system and ensure that the children’s rights are not violated during the process. Currently, ACJ has 10 paralegals serving 10% (about 534) of all juveniles being held in custody, with an average of five new referrals a week.

ECCDE targets babies behind bars, that is, very young children who accompany their mothers to prison either because of a lack of childcare options or because they are under four years of age and are required by current laws to do so. ACJ has partnered with a local early-childhood education center and Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC) to develop a mobile education center for babies behind bars. The model is currently working in Lusaka’s main prison. The initiative began in 2014 by working with the children for just one day a week and now works with them three days a week with plans to be developed into a sustainable mobile early childhood education and care center.

The vision for ACJ developed in 2009 but was only registered and fully implemented in 2013. Over the past few years of operation, the four-strategy model has already demonstrated significant impact on both the material problem and child rights within the justice system. During the course of two years, the CCC-Building Lives have worked with more than 71 young offenders— registering a successful reintegration rate of 80% and engages more than 461 at-risk youth within the community through the drop-in facility. Having proven the CCC-building Lives model, Josphat wants to take it to other provinces of the country. Josphat is currently strategizing on how to scale his impact by considering ways to effectively work within justice systems at provincial and district levels without ACJ owning and running all CCC-Building Lives centrally.

The Problem

Zambia, like most developing countries in Southern Africa, is facing a lot of challenges with its child justice system which emphasizes on punitive rather than restorative justice. Because of rampant poverty, many kids are left to fend for themselves and become more likely to commit petty crimes like pickpocketing, shoplifting, and stealing food from people’s gardens and homes to survive. When arrested, these children are locked up in holding cells which do not have specific facilities for young offenders and are then forced to share facilities with matured and hardened criminals. Because the justice system lacks both human and financial capacity to prosecute cases within the required time, young offenders find themselves locked up in cells, isolated from their communities, families and normal lives for extensive periods of time. Such prolonged delays may cause psychological trauma and reintegration problems.

According to a comparative criminology report completed in 2009 by Crime and Society, it takes between 6 to 24 months for a perpetrator to receive judgment in Zambia’s justice system. The 2014 government audit on the justice system revealed that children stay for as long as three years in conventional prisons before transference to reformatory schools due to a lack of capacity and also because of mere negligence by responsible officers. While locked up, the congestion in the cells expose children to sexual abuse and violence; the prisons also lack access to proper nutrition, continued education, counseling and other services children need for reformation and effective reintegration.

Once behind bars, the offenders are completely lost in the process and usually no one (not even the arresting or prosecuting officer) follows up on the case for a long time, sometimes even years. There is no proper record keeping within the system. In some cases no one knows why the children are imprisoned or what the next steps in the children’s case are. Other times the children are released back into the community to create space for new arrests without proper counseling and reintegration support, the children lose hope of transformation and are more likely to go back to the world of crime, now as hard core criminals.

The other problem is that the age of criminal responsibility in Zambia is still aligned to colonially inherited laws with no standardization to international practices such that kids as young as eight years of age can be arrested for crime (UNICEF). The system generally lacks structures and policies that recognize and deal with young offenders in ways that respect their rights and ensures that procedures facilitate and not hinder Child offender’s reformation. Although Zambia endorses the 1989 Child Rights Convention (CRC), the justice system is not in compliance with the international standards and guidelines for dealing with children and this is aggravated by the fact that the CRC has not been domesticated into the laws of Zambia . In addition, most officers in different areas of the justice system (police, prison and judiciary officers) are not trained in rights and so unwittingly infringe upon these rights. Police and prison workers entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding child rights in the justice system are usually at the forefront of perpetrations of violence and abuse against children.

At the opposite end, there is grave lack of public awareness and education on Child justice and rights. Most people from low income and disadvantaged communities do not understand the legal procedures and jargon used in the justice system. For example, if a child is arrested for petty theft and is to be released on bail: 1) The parents would be scared to visit the police station to sign or pay the bail as they believe they may also be locked up for the child’s offence 2) In most cases they would not even have money to pay the child’s bail. The result is justice inequality among different societies. Further, public perception is biased towards justice by punishment and many people do not understand the concept of corrective justice and reformation especially through diversion. For example, if a child is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, both the victim and community members would want to the child locked up without considering the overall impact on both the child’s and the community’s future.

The Strategy

The first and core element of Josphat’s strategy is the CCC-Building Lives. The CCC is a diversion program that provides an alternative method for effective reformation of Child petty crime offenders. While government reformation centers (only four throughout Zambia) deal with convicted children, the CCC deals with under pre-trial offenders awaiting prosecution in holding cells—before they are even sucked into the justice system. The program works hand in hand with the local community police station which acts as the custodian of the diversion process at Community Level. The CCC also receives diversion cases of children at Court level as a referral center for rehabilitation of child offenders on probation as ordered by the court.

When a petty offender under 18 years of age is arrested, the police invite representatives from ACJ (legal experts and social workers) to come to the station to hear the case together with community leaders, the offender’s family, the victim and representatives from the education and social welfare departments.

The stakeholders then decide, based on the magnitude of the offence and other considerations, whether it would be best to divert the case to CCC for reformation. This process is usually based on criminal procedure Code (CPC) which helps define different cases and course of action, it determines what is felony or misdemeanor case then guides the course of action or provides a basis for intervention or discussion considering the principle of what is in the best interest of the child.

After the referral, the CCC kick-starts the reformation process working together with the police and social welfare department who still control the process through constant monitoring and follow ups. The offender is then assessed on his reformation needs and works with in ACJ social workers to draw up a reformation plan which involves his family, community members, educators, the police, and social welfare department. The reformation plan is usually a 12 step process which takes 6 to 18 months to complete, depending on individual progress and incorporates components of counseling and therapy (group, individual and family), community responsibility, life skills development and education. Participants are required to report to the center every day for a specified period aligned to their school schedule for their sessions.

ACJ draws up a memorandum of understanding and code of conduct for each child’s reformation program which is signed by all stakeholders agreeing to be part of and take responsibility for his reformation plan. In collaboration with social welfare department, a child is ordered or sentenced by the court for counseling at the CCC-Building Lives. Once the child fails to adhere to the prescribed counseling treatment, that Child can be re-arrested. The total freedom of the child is dependent on the successful completion report by ACJ social welfare, Police and Department of Social Welfare and Community witnesses. As part of the agreement, those participants who dropped out of school are required to enroll back into school. The CCC has an afternoon education program for extra lessons and homework assistance to help smooth reintegration into school and ensure improved performance. The CCC also acts as an open drop in center allowing children from the community access to the play area to provide an open space for socialization and to enable the program to reach out to youth at risk of coming into conflict with the law and affect behavior change. The social workers conduct regular home visits and outreach programs (during and after the reformation plan) to constantly monitor the behavior of the child and work with parents and guardians on how they can support the restorative process. Since 2013, the CCC has reached out to 534 young people (including drop-ins), with 71 registered for the reformation program and a current 80% success rate in complete reintegration.

Under the advocacy program, ACJ has a team of legal experts (including volunteers from the public and private sectors) which through research, consultancy and advocacy work as a watchdog safeguarding child justice and ensuring that laws, policies and regulations are revised and aligned to best practices for child rights. The team works with the human rights commission, Zambia’s law development commission, legal aid board, department of social welfare, judiciary, prisons, police services, community leaders and other stakeholders to facilitate a fully consultative process of policy review and to advocate for necessary changes in line with child justice. Once policy changes are agreed upon, ACJ engages the commission which leads the drafting of the proposed changes and recommendations into a Bill the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) to ensure that proper procedures are followed to have the Bill tabled in parliament. Most recently, after a lengthy consultative and advocacy process that included working together with the Zambia Law Development Commission, the Ministry of Justice and other stake holders, ACJ has facilitated the formulation of the Administration of Child Justice Bill embedded in Child Code draft bill which will replace the Juvenile Act after passage in parliament.

Some of the major changes advocated in the Bill are legitimization of child diversion at community level to CCCs, a reduction in the age for criminal responsibility from 8 to 16 years, separate child-friendly courts, the incorporation of the ‘child code’ and adoption of the Child Rights Convention into procedures that guide the administration of child justice. Once the Bill has been passed into law, it will provide a legal instrument for holding the justice system accountable in case of child rights infringements. As part of advocacy, the program also works on capacity building within the justice system to disseminate information, educate and train staff members of police, judiciary and prison departments (and also parliamentarians) on child rights.

ACJ conducts an average of eight training sessions and workshops a year on various topics relating to child justice to ensure that all stakeholders understand issues relating to the rights of juveniles and advocate for behavior change. Public open days, child rights campaigns and other media are also used to engage the public and create awareness of challenges of the justice system relating to child rights and how every person can play a role to safeguard child justice.

Related to advocacy is the Legal Desk program which is ACJ’s arm for accelerated justice for children under pre-trial detention. ACJ has trained 20 paralegals who man legal desks in various prisons in four provinces of Zambia. All children cases are referred to the legal desk by police and prison officers; the trained paralegals then work together with other legal experts to accelerate the prosecution process and ensure the minimum delay in obtaining judgment. ACJ believes that the longer the offender stays in isolation as a criminal, the more difficult it is to effectively reintegrate back into the society. Currently the legal desk offers legal advisory and administration services for children cases but Josphat has plans to have in-house lawyers to offer litigation services as well.

Lastly, the Early Childhood Care Development and Education( ECCDE) program safeguards the welfare of babies behind bars to make sure that they have access to health, nutrition and education services through mobile ECCDE centers. ACJ works in partnership with volunteers, to provide age specific health and education programs to the children.

On average, there are between 15 to 25 babies behind bars in each of the 25 prisons that contain mothers with children in Zambia. The program was started in 2014 and is now being pioneered at 2 main prisons in Lusaka with a vision of scaling to all 25 prisons and incorporating the model into the justice system based on the revised bill of the Prison Act. ACJ is looking for sustainable financial support for this project.

The Person

Josphat, the fifth child in a family of seven children, grew up in Ndola Copper-belt Zambia. Because of a lack of resources, his parents struggled to raise and educate all seven of their kids, such that Josphat was forced to drop out of grade seven. He then teamed up with an orphaned childhood friend to start various small businesses including street vend, to pay for their education. Growing up surrounded by poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and other social issues, Josphat developed a passion for working with young people, whom he believed could be empowered to break the vicious cycles of poverty.

Beginning in 1994, Zambia underwent a privatization of most public institutions which resulted in a massive loss of employment. Consequently, the nation witnessed a sharp rise in the numbers of destitute street children, especially those in lower end communities. Motivated by Christian principals, Josphat started an informal organization called “God is Able”, while still in high school. He fundraised to feed street kid and used the organization as a platform to motivate the children to go back to school. After enrolling at the University of Zambia, Josphat maintained his connection with poor children by volunteering with the “Children in Crisis” organization. Through this connection, he gained a deeper understanding of the various issues that led vulnerable young people to drop out of school and engage in drug dealing and other petty crimes.

In 2001, after having worked as a teacher for three years, Josphat helped pioneer an organization called “LifeNet Children Rescue Mission”. The organization’s mission was to rescue children from the streets, shelter them in a boarding home and give them an opportunity to turn their lives around. Through the numerous cases of the children who benefitted from his organization, Josphat encountered a larger problem of child rights. He realized that the justice system was destructive rather than reformatory and slowly his vision for “Advocacy for Child Justice” began to take shape. In 2008, Josphat left LifeNet to found ACJ and fight for the justice system to recognize children’s rights. Josphat has diversified the functions of ACJ to include both the practical demonstrations of intervention strategies for alternative and effective child reformation and the securing of rights for babies behind bars while continuing to advocate for child justice at all levels. Josphat’s vision is to ensure that policies related to the justice system are formulated and implemented with consideration to child rights and that there are models to demonstrate effective juvenile reformation. Josphat is currently studying at The University of Zambia in pursuance of a Bachelor’s degree in Law to prepare himself for the massive change in the Legal desk program as he starts the litigation side of children cases.