Violence against children in the criminal justice system

Vietnamese students art competition in 2010 on the subject of violence against children25 April 2013 - A side event on the crucial issue of violence against children in the criminal justice system took place during the 22nd Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Speakers view the UN's standard and norms in the area of crime prevention and criminal justice as offering strong support to children, but they also expressed fear that violence against children increases the likelihood of further violence.

During the event, the "Joint Report of UNODC, OHCHR and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children on Prevention of and Responses to Violence against Children within the Juvenile Justice System" was presented to the audience.

The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Ms. Marta Santos Pais, spoke about the recommendations contained in the joint report, which highlights the need to prevent children from becoming involved in the criminal justice system by ensuring that deprivation of liberty is a measure of last resort, and promoting alternative measures to detention.

After a powerful introduction to the proceedings given by H.R.H Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, Ambassador Extraordinary of Thailand, speakers reinforced the importance of this issue as well as the impact of human rights treaties and the standards of United Nations to create effective criminal justice systems for children.

In his own speech, Director of Operations for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Aldo Lale-Demoz, stressed that children were at the core of UNODC's mandate for the promotion of efficient, fair and humane criminal justice systems that protect the vulnerable while upholding human rights. "The consequences of violence against children, who are in the justice system, cannot be underestimated. Such violations seriously pre-empt the development and the ability of the child to grow into a functioning adult…," said Mr. Lale-Demoz.

Following Mr. Lale-Demoz, Marcia V. J. Kran, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that violence against children both compounded and exacerbated the already existing damage caused by incarceration. It was evident in their "development and mental health," Reinforcing this point, Ms. Kran said, "We know that children deprived of liberty suffer anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness, particularly as they are removed from a family or community environment."

Ms. Santos Pais acknowledged the impact of violence on children, as well as its effect on a person's later life. "Children's exposure to violence often leads to a dramatic vicious circle. Children are at the high risk of violence from the moment of arrest, while awaiting trial and also after conviction, including through inhuman forms of sentencing. Child victims of sexual abuse are up to five times as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, to be dependent on drugs and alcohol, and also to commit criminal offences later in life. Child neglect increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile; and emotional maltreatment, including as a result of witnessing domestic violence, leads to an increased risk of involvement in violent crime," said Ms. Santos Pais.

In 2006, the United Nations Study on Violence against Children made a global effort to understand the extent and causes of violence against children. The report called on every nation to respond to all forms of violence against children, including in the justice system. Children in juvenile justice systems, according to the report, may be the victims of physical, psychological and sexual violence by staff and adult detainees in detention centers. These offences can occur during a child's arrest, while being interrogated, or in police custody; they are often meted out as punishment or as a form of sentencing.

Factors contributing to violence against children in the juvenile justice system range from weak legislation, and enforcement to a lack of qualified professionals and the absence of effective oversight and inspection mechanisms. Issues may also arise when there is a lack of cooperation between the justice, social welfare and child protection sectors.

Prior to the event, Ms. Santos Pais highlighted the importance of education in helping children. "Children need to have access to the best possible early childhood education. And we need to make sure they are given opportunities to develop to their full potential." She also focused on the need for community-based support for children as an alternative to depriving children of their liberty. "We see less recidivism where there is a focus on prevention rather than imprisonment."

UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov later met with Ms. Marta Santos Pais. After the meeting, he said that UNODC was committed to ensuring that the issue of violence against children remained high on the political agenda. He also issued a call to Member States for further information and data, so that UNODC could gain a better understanding about the situation, as well as the human rights of children deprived of their liberty.

The side event was organized by the Academic Council on the United Nations System with the participation of UNODC the OHCHR, the SRSG on Violence Against Children, the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, the Friends World Committee, and a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It was chaired by the Government of Thailand and promoted in cooperation with the Government of Austria.

Further information:

Joint Report of UNODC, OHCHR and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children on Prevention of and Responses to Violence against Children within the Juvenile Justice System (A/HRC/21/25)

UNODC and justice for children

Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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