It is important to ensure that the human rights of vulnerable groups that may be subject to marginalization, such as women, children, minorities, refugees, and displaced persons, are addressed in the context of crime prevention and criminal justice reform. The United Nations is responsible for establishing the rule of law on the basis of equality, with particular attention to gender equality and to the rights and vulnerabilities specific to children.
The goal of the justice for children approach is to ensure that children, defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as all persons under the age of eighteen, are better served and protected by justice systems, including the security and social welfare sectors. It specifically aims to ensure the full application of international norms and standards for all children who come into contact with justice systems as victims, witnesses and alleged offenders, or for other reasons where judicial, state administrative or non-state adjudicatory intervention is needed, for example regarding care, custody or protection.
Children in conflict with the law
The number of children deprived of liberty as a result of conflict with the law is estimated to be at least one million worldwide. In countries that do not fully understand the unique situation and vulnerabilities of children, children in conflict with the law are treated similarly to adults. Both adult criminal justice systems and juvenile justice systems may frequently use deprivation of liberty as the primary sentencing option. Both may also fail to consider the needs and best interests of the child and address the root causes that bring them into conflict with the law. Indeed, whilst a country may implement specialised procedures for children in conflict with the law, an effective juvenile justice system requires that the varying needs of children be assessed, that children in conflict with the law are referred to appropriate services, and that they are offered care and assistance with reintegration into the community. Moreover, a juvenile justice system should embody a child-friendly environment, using appropriate language and the minimum possible use of physical restraints.
Once in contact with a justice system that is unresponsive to children's needs, children deprived of liberty are at a heightened risk of abuse, violence, exploitation, and health related concerns, such as injury and HIV/AIDS infection. They also risk becoming further isolated from society, particularly where children's welfare, education, and reintegration are not fully promoted within the formal justice system.
Child victims and witnesses
Millions of children throughout the world suffer harm as a result of crime and abuse of power, and as a result, come into contact with the criminal justice system. The vulnerabilities of children in criminal justice processes, due to their age and still developing levels of maturity, require that special measures be taken to ensure their rights are adequately protected.
UNODC offers assistance in:
For more specific information on justice for children, please follow the links below:
Relevant international legal framework on justice for children:
The following instruments, although not exclusively applicable to children, are of direct relevance to issues related to child justice:
Reports of the Secretary General:
Other Relevant Information:
A fair, effective and efficient criminal justice system is a system that respects the fundamental rights of victims, suspects, and offenders. It focuses on the need to prevent victimization, to protect and assist victims, to treat them with compassion, and to respect their dignity. Victims should also have access to judicial and other mechanisms, to seek prompt redress for harm they have suffered. Additionally, victims should have access to specialized assistance in dealing with any emotional trauma and other problems caused as a result of victimization.
Crime takes an enormous physical, financial, and emotional toll on victims. However, in many criminal justice systems, victims of crime are often forgotten and sometimes even re-victimized by the system itself. They are rarely allowed to fully participate in decisions that concern them and do not always receive the assistance, support, and protection they need. Redress for the harm they have suffered as a result of victimization is often not available and, when it is, it is too often insufficient or comes too late.
UNODC offers assistance in:
For more detailed information on victims and witnesses, please see:
Gender-based discrimination in the criminal justice system creates significant obstacles to achieve access to justice for all. This problem disproportionately affects women, who face still face significant barriers in accessing justice, whether they are victims, witnesses, alleged offenders or prisoners. Criminal justice systems tend to focus on the needs of a predominantly male population of offenders and prisoners, although the global number of women in prison is growing at a faster rate.
The key challenges range from discriminatory criminal laws and procedures and a lack of gender diversity among criminal justice professionals, to gender bias, stereotyping, stigma and impunity. To effectively address gender-based discrimination against women in conflict with the law, a comprehensive set of targeted interventions are needed to address the obstacles women face throughout the criminal justice chain, in line with the Bangkok Rules and related international standards and norms.
Promoting gender-responsive non-custodial measures to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women through legal reform, capacity building training and awareness-raising;
Strengthening women's access to legal aid though legal and policy advice, capacity building for legal aid institutions and service providers, as well as legal empowerment for women in the community;
Supporting prison administrations to provide for the distinctive needs of women in prison, in order to eliminate discrimination and achieve substantive gender equality, through policy reform, training and social reintegration programmes;
Promoting the equal representation of women in criminal justice institutions, particularly in positions of authority, through policy advice and mentoring.
Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures English
E-learning course on Alternatives to Imprisonment for Women Offenders English
Afghanistan: Female Prisoners and their social reintegration English
UNODC, UN Women and OHCHR are improving access to legal aid for women in West Africa under a joint project funded by the UN Development Account.
UNODC’s Global Prison Challenges Programme is promoting gender-responsive non-custodial measures and social reintegration of women after imprisonment. Join the webinar series on gender-responsive criminal justice and prison reform to learn more.
UNODC promotes victim-centered approaches under its Global Programme on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women.
Gender-based discrimination in the criminal justice system is not limited to women.
Learn more about discrimination and violence against LGBTI individuals and UNODC’s work on prison reform and LGBTI prisoners.
See also the Tools and publications page for further information regarding the abovementioned issues on children, victims, and women's issues.