Decriminalise Laws On Petty Offenses, They Only Target The Poor – CHRI Boss

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Mina Mensah
Mina Mensah

Mina Mensah, Director of the Africa Office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, has called for the decriminalization and reclassification of petty crimes under the laws of Ghana.

She averred that the current laws that govern petty offences in the country are largely redundant and disproportionately affect the poor in society.

She was speaking on JoyNews’ The Law, on Sunday.

According to her, “The fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is; what the purpose of these laws are? What are their purpose and their enforcement? Why did we put these laws in place? And what is their enforcement like? And how does it contribute to making society safer? And what is the evidence that if somebody begs on the street the person is making the street unsafe?,” explaining that the nature of these laws is such that they inadvertently target the poor, even if that was not the intention of the lawmakers, thus putting the less-privileged at a further disadvantage.

Madam Mina Mensah said: “But we found out that a lot of these laws are targeted at the poor; not deliberately, but by their nature, it’s normally the poor that you find doing some of these things. It’s only a poor person, who will go on the street to beg, and sometimes for people who even sell in places that they’re not supposed to sell, for people who loiter around, you would hardly find somebody who has money just walking around, he’ll go to a recreational centre…I always say that the state tends to punish its citizens when the state is not doing what it ought to do in the first place. If the structures were in place, people will not go out there to sell. Unfortunately, the structures are not there, we do not have social structures, our markets are not properly set out, they’re congested so people will do that.

“So when the state is not taking care of its responsibilities the easy way is to make the citizens pay, because like I said, let’s go back to the question; what is the purpose for these laws and their enforcement? And how does it contribute to making society safer? We’re not saying that we should encourage uncleanliness but does it make society unsafe? Those are the questions that we need to ask,” she maintained.

She called for the criminalization of petty offences, which poor people especially fall culprit to, leaves them to the mercy of law enforcement agencies who often abuse their authority in the implementation of those laws.

“And we’re saying that for some of these things because they have been criminalized, you give them the power to law enforcement agencies, not only Police officers but anybody who has the authority to arrest these people. It is not only the arrest that is the problem, it is what the person has to go through. You were talking about a person being whipped, it doesn’t end there. The person will be arrested, the goods that the person does not even have the money to buy would be ceased, the person might necessarily have to pay a bribe, and if the person is going to be prosecuted, will have to go through this unfriendly justice system, the state will spend money prosecuting somebody who is selling oranges of a 100ghana cedis for crying out loud, don’t we have anything to do with our time and money? These are the things that we need to assess,” she said.

“The person comes out [out of prison] worse off because the person went in as a minor criminal, but probably goes in there, learns a few things that he or she is not supposed to learn, comes out, and because society itself, we are so averse to having people who have gone to jail around us, we victimize them. They might not find a job to do, and then we add to the problem,” she averred.

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