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Topic six - Addressing violence against children within the justice system


The United Nations Model Strategies (Economic and Social Council Resolution 2014/18) consider the high risk faced by children in conflict with the law, or in the language of the CRC "children who are alleged as, accused of or recognized as having infringed the criminal law", especially those who are deprived of their liberty. Because special attention must be paid to the especially vulnerable situation of these children, the United Nations Model Strategies identify a number of measures to prevent and respond to violence against children resulting from their contacts with that system.

It is deeply worrying to observe that many of the children in conflict with the law are themselves victims of violence. Indeed, we know that being abused or neglected significantly increases a child's risk of criminal justice involvement (Cashmore, 2011; Ryan et al., 2013). Considering that an important objective of the justice system is to protect children against violence, one must be especially concerned with the violence and abuse that children are sometimes subjected to by that very system.

Detection of violence against children in the justice system

Justice personnel should be under legal obligation to report incidents or alleged incidents of violence against children. That obligation should also be reflected in the relevant regulations of agencies and rules of conduct and it should be enforced (Economic and Social Council Resolution 2014/18, Article 44).

A crucial starting point is the establishment of complaint mechanisms for child victims of violence within the justice system that are safe, confidential, effective and easily accessible. Such complaint mechanisms must be accompanied, when needed, by counselling and support services (UNODC, 2015b).

Once complaint mechanisms are established, it is also very important to protect children who report abuse, taking particular care to redress any risks of retaliation. This can be done by adopting and enforcing policies that ensure that those allegedly implicated in violence against or ill-treatment of children are removed from any position of control or power, whether direct or indirect, over complainants, witnesses and their families, and those conducting the investigation. Other practical and procedural measures must be in place to protect children who provide information or act as witnesses in proceedings related to a case involving violence within the justice system (Economic and Social Council Resolution 2014/18, Article 44). Existing complaint mechanisms should be reviewed and tested.

Other key strategies and measures to reduce the risk of violence against children in the justice system include:

  • Preventing children from coming in contact with the justice system (by strengthening child protection systems, decriminalizing status offences, etc);
  • Reducing the number of children in detention (by widening the use and application of diversion, non-custodial measures and restorative justice);
  • Ensuring that deprivation of liberty is only used as a measure of last resort;
  • Safeguarding the right of all children within the juvenile justice system to have access to legal assistance throughout the process; or
  • Establishing independent oversight, inspection and monitoring mechanisms.

The risk of violence against children is particularly great in places of detention. It can be mitigated by the effective monitoring of, regular access to and inspection of places of detention by independent bodies, human rights institutions, ombudspersons or members of the judiciary, who are empowered to conduct unannounced visits, conduct interviews with children and staff in private and investigate allegations of violence.

For further discussion of the prevention and response of VAC in the criminal justice system, refer to the Module 13 on Justice for Children in the E4J University Module Series on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

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