Children in the justice system need protection

Photo: A. Scotti: Detention Centre in Guinea Bissau25 January 2011 - Millions of children all over the world suffer from violence. Studies reveal that children in the juvenile justice system, and in particular those deprived of their liberty, are especially vulnerable to violence. UNICEF estimates that more than one million children are currently deprived of their liberty across the globe.

On 23 and 24 January, experts met in Vienna to formulate and accelerate the adoption of effective measures to protect children within the juvenile justice system against all forms of violence. At the meeting, experts shared good practices and reviewed a concept paper containing recommendations on strategies and measures to prevent and respond to violence against children within the juvenile justice system.

"On any given day, children in conflict with the law encounter violence, including from police and security forces, from adult detainees, from staff at detention centres and from their own peers, while some even attempt suicide. These are the invisible children; our role is to bring their misery into plain sight," said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

The vast majority of children in detention are charged with petty crimes, and are first-time offenders. Many have committed no crime at all, but have been rounded up for vagrancy, homelessness or simply for being in need of care and protection.

Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, said: "Juvenile justice is a core dimension of the rights of the child and a pivotal area where States' commitment to children's rights can be best expressed. We have a unique opportunity to promote a paradigm shift and help the criminal justice system evolve from an adult universe where children and adolescents hardly belong and where violence remains a high risk into an environment where children are seen as rights holders and are protected from all forms of violence at all times."

Mr. Fedotov said that UNODC has the mandate to support Member States in preventing crime and violence and strengthening their justice systems. "Within this mandate," he added, "a key priority for us is to support Member States in ensuring that children are better served and protected by justice systems. The issue of violence against children in juvenile justice systems is therefore a priority area for UNODC."

The Executive Director added: "Our challenge is to create fair, effective and efficient juvenile justice systems that comply with international standards and norms. By relying on international standards we can create a powerful source of protection for children."

UNODC activities to promote juvenile justice, including the rights of children in the justice system, are founded on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international standards and norms and the recommendations of the Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children.

The expert group meeting was jointly organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and UNODC with the support of the Government of Austria, and was attended by representatives of UNICEF and other international organizations.