* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
What kind of justice for children?
In the margins of the session of the Human Rights Council on access to the justice system, a press conference took place on the subject: ‘What kind of justice for children?’, with Mrs. Maria Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN General Secretary on violence towards children, and Mr. Vito Angelillo, Director General of Terre des hommes (Tdh). Despite the undeniable progress made over the last few decades, the improvement of children’s rights with respect to juvenile justice still remains an issue (http://www.tdh.ch/en/documents/infopage-on-juvenile-justice-2013).
“Juvenile justice, poor relation of the justice system”
Vito Angelillo began his remarks with these words. Rarely considered a priority by countries who instead opt for more visible measures (in terms of economic crime or terrorism), the public does not have much of an appetite for juvenile justice, and is instead mostly in favour of firm and repressive judicial measures.
Today, it is estimated that one million children are deprived of their freedom by the world (UNICEF http://www.unicef.org/). The tendency is one where children are held responsible younger and younger when in trouble with the law (as a comparison, in Switzerland, children are criminally liable at 10 years old) and sentences are becoming longer and longer. There are therefore many issues surrounding the juvenile judicial system, such as the guarantee of their rights and effective prevention programmes for juvenile criminal offenders. Work to raise awareness of the advantages of a restorative juvenile justice system continues in 2014, marking the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (http://s3.amazonaws.com/webdix/media_files/112_tdh_convention_on_the_rights_of_the_child_DDE_en_2008_original.pdf).
“Promoting a system that believes in and respects the child”
According to Maria Santos Pais, it really is about “promoting a system that believes in and respects the child.” Restorative juvenile justice promotes solutions that repair the damage, reconcile the parties involved, make the young aware of their responsibilities and restore harmony within the community. The penalty is to be educational and detention must be a last resort and for the shortest possible duration, supporting all parties involved.
With a low rate of subsequent offences, the restorative justice approach is producing convincing results. In Peru, where Tdh is carrying out juvenile justice projects, the rate of subsequent offences is 4% out of a total of 80 minors, which is very low, even in comparison with European countries. Furthermore, the cost of non-custodial measures tend to be lower than those associated with detention.
World Congres on Juvenile Justice, source of inspiration
“We hope that the congress will help us to better understand and also leave inspired and strengthened in our commitment to create a system for the protection of the rights of the child and not one of stigmatisation and criminalisation of children,”said Maria Santo Pais.
The World Congress on Juvenile Justice (http://www.tdh.ch/en/news/world-congress-juvenile-justice), organised by Tdh and the Swiss government, will provide an opportunity for the various parties involved in the justice system (NGOs, nation states, judges etc.) to share their experiences, compare results, identify the needs of those involved and the practical necessities to respond to this as well as strengthening cooperation in matters of juvenile justice. Much hope is riding on the World Congress on Juvenile Justice which will take place on 26th – 30th January, 2015.