Human Rights Watch says children who run afoul of the law in Burundi are jailed with adults and are subject to many abuses, including sexual molestation and torture. Cathy Majtenyi has details for VOA from Nairobi.
A Human Rights Watch's report, titled Paying the Price: Violations of the Rights of Children in Detention in Burundi, says there is no juvenile justice system in Burundi. Under current legislation, children from 13 years of age upward found guilty of a crime are jailed along with adults.
According to the report, the only provision for children is that they may receive a reduced sentence. There are no alternatives to incarceration and no support systems for such children once they are released.
The report draws its information from interviews with more than 100 children as well as prosecutors and prison staff.
Human Rights Watch Researcher Alison Des Forges also tells VOA many children brought to court do not have lawyers representing them.
"Sometimes the children were beaten in order to get confessions from them. And when they are finally returned to prisons, they mix with the adult prison population," she said. "There are not separate quarters for them, at least not during the day. In these circumstances, they are also abused by adult prisoners, including cases of sexual abuse."
The report tells of a 17-year-old boy called Adolph, who was accused of theft and incarcerated at Burundi's Gitega prison. He says an adult male repeatedly raped him. The boy says he still feels pain in his kidneys and stomach, and has diarrhea often.
Fifteen-year-old Gaspar, accused of theft and jailed at Ruyigi Prison, says he is frequently threatened by criminals on death row, who sometimes hit him.
VOA was unable to get immediate comment on the report from the Burundi embassy in Nairobi.
Des Forges says Burundi's national assembly is considering a law to reform the penal code so that special provisions can be made for children.
She says these provisions include: raising the age of criminal responsibility from 13 to 15 years; assistance for children in court; and alternative forms of punishment, such as community service or being put in foster homes.
According to the report, about 400 children between the ages of 13 and 18 were in prison in Burundi in 2006, with many others held at police stations.