Children in contact with the justice system are more vulnerable to violence. Given their vulnerability, international standards and norms highlight the specific needs of these children and also the obligations of States to ensure that their rights are protected, respected and fulfilled with a view to promoting their rehabilitation and reintegration.
A specialized juvenile justice system: according to Article 40(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, States must promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically in relation to children in conflict with the law (i.e. children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law).
According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the independent expert advisory body on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in General Comment No. 24 on children's rights in the child justice system, not only is the use of child justice systems important to maintain public safety and to ensure that children are treated in a way that upholds their rights under the Convention and their sense of dignity and worth, it also requires "the establishment of specialized units within the police, the judiciary, the court system and the prosecutor's office, as well as specialized defenders or other representatives who provide legal or other appropriate assistance to the child."
Therefore, training of such professionals on child rights and child-sensitive approaches is critical to ensure that the rights of children in conflict with the law, as well as child victims and witnesses of crime, are upheld.
Furthermore, States are required to establish a minimum age of criminal responsibility (article 40(3)(a)) which the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in General Comment No. 24, urges States not to set at too low an age and which takes into account new research on the ongoing neurological development of children, especially during adolescence which influences risk-taking behaviour. In addition, States should consider applying alternative measures to formal justice systems when dealing with children in conflict with the law (article 40 3(b)), including diversion (see the International Legal Framework: A Benchmark for Action for more information).
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Considering that children may experience violence when they are in contact with the justice system, especially as alleged offenders and when deprived of their liberty, UNODC focuses on supporting States in preventing and responding to violence against children that may happen when they are in contact with the justice system As such, UNODC works to support States in strengthening juvenile justice systems with a view to:
1. Promoting alternative measures to formal judicial proceedings (ie.diversion).
2. Ensuring that children are treated in a manner that upholds their sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child's respect for the rights and freedoms of others, takes into account their age, promotes reintegration efforts, is free from all forms of violence; and is child-friendly, child-sensitive and gender-sensitive.
3. Promoting and protecting the four core principles at the heart of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that:
4. Ensure that deprivation of liberty is a measure of last resort and used only for the shortest appropriate period of time.
5. Ensure that these children are given all the necessary support and rehabilitation services to be able to reintegrate into society.