Ankara hosts international symposium on children in conflict with the law
Experts from four continents gathered in Ankara on April 27 for an international symposium on children in conflict with the law.The First International Symposium on Children at Risk and In Need of Protection has been organized under the auspices of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (Parliament) and coordinated by the Turkish National Police with the technical support of UNICEF and the cooperation of the Research Center for Crime Prevention and Juvenile Delinquency of the Police Academy. "Children in Conflict with the Law" is the main theme of the three-day event.
Among those taking part are academics, judges, public officials, psychologists and similar experts from countries as far apart as Azerbaijan, Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Turkey and the USA.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Muslim Saylõ, Deputy Director of the Public Order Department of the Turkish National Police, noted that the symposium would take the form of a series of parallel workshops on the topics of prevention services, intervention strategies and monitoring and evaluation activities. "A concluding statement will be drafted and we hope this will lead to action plans in the various countries and there will be something to report back on in a year's time," Saylõ explained.
Putting the Convention into Practice
UNICEF Turkey Representative Reza Hossaini said that the symposium would address the issue of how to put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into practice. "On the 20th anniversary of the Convention we need to renew our commitment for a child- friendly and child-specific justice system for children. This should include specific legislation, specific institutions and trained personnel," Mr Hossaini declared.
The UNICEF Representative made clear that "Juvenile justice is a children's rights issue, and we have to ensure that all children are better served and protected by justice systems, whether they be victims, witnesses or offenders." He acknowledged that much progress has been made over the past twenty years in terms of access to health and education and the development of child justice systems. But pointing to social trends and the rise of organized crime, he questioned whether the world has become a safer place for children.
Mr Hossaini cited figures from UN reports pointing to the high level of sexual exploitation, violence and homicide against children. "Very often," he added, "these children are abused by the very same people who are supposed to protect them. It happens at home, or in institutions, or in detention centers."
One million child detainees
The Representative went on to explain that over a million children worldwide are thought to be in detention-notwithstanding the government's obligation to ensure that the detention of children is used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Most of these children have been involved in minor or petty crimes, and are first-time offenders. Typically, they have not been convicted but are awaiting trial in detention centers where they are likely to be beaten, painfully restrained, and subjected to humiliating treatment. Contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, detention with adults remains routine in many countries.
"A successful justice for children programme should have a strong preventive component," Mr Hossaini underlined. "The courts and detention facilities alone can not address this growing problem of children coming into contact with the law." He said that the symposium was a sign of the importance which the Grand National Assembly and the National Police placed on the protection of children.
Other keynote speakers on the first day of the symposium included Member of Parliament Halide Incekara; Professor Hasan Tahsin Fendoglu, the president of the Prime Ministry Human Rights Presidency, President of the Special Court of Sierra Leone Renate Winter and researcher Yuksel Baykara Acar of Ankara's Hacettepe University.
Drawing on her experience as an international child judge, Ms Winter emphasised that good laws are not enough, and that governments must provide the means to implement them. "It costs less to establish prevention programmes with the participation of families and communities than it costs to have a child in conflict with the law or in a closed establishment and stigmatised, who will never work and never become a tax payer," she noted
Search for best practices
Participants said they were anxious to learn about best practices with a view to implementing them in their own countries. "I see that a lot of the countries represented here are in the process of transition, especially with respect to their juvenile justice systems," commented Ranka Carapic, Supreme State Prosecutor in Montenegro, which is in the process of upgrading its Law on the Police. "We are at the very beginning of our juvenile justice reform, and I think this symposium will be important for some new ideas and the introduction of new experiences into our system."
\The symposium has been timed to coincide with Children's Week, which started on April 23. This is the date on which the Turkish Grand National Assembly held its first session in 1920, and it is celebrated in Turkey as Children's Day.