United on the need to improve legislation and its enforcement to better protect children in conflict and contact with the law
Prompted by the findings of a UNICEF legal gap analysis and juvenile justice law revisions - currently being drafted by a working group within the Ministry of Justice - the public hearing unanimously called for further strengthening of existing legislation and ensuring resources are allocated to ensure the good intentions in the law are realized.
“Juvenile justice is the cornerstone of any justice system and restorative justice is the foundation of justice for children – this is a principal that the working group will never lose sight of,” said Prof. Vlado Kambovski, president of the working group preparing amendments to the juvenile justice law, during his presentation on addressing legal gaps.
The public hearing was initiated by the recently established Child Rights Working Group - a non-statutory body within the Parliamentary Committee for Labour and Social Policy – and convened by the President of the Committee itself, Ms Cvetanka Ivanova. During the discussion Ms. Biljana Brishkoska, Deputy Minister of Justice and Mr. Ibrahim Ibrahimi, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy provided updates on the actions taken by the government to ensure effective implementation of the law.
Emphasizing the need to focus on quality over speed, Mr. Robin Liddell, Chargé d'Affairs of the EU Delegation, noted the timeliness of the debate and areas needing further attention.
“Given the relatively limited scope of resources that need to be allocated – achieving [a well-functioning juvenile justice system] could be a relatively quick win, not only for the current government, but also for generations to come,” said Mr. Liddell.
The presentations inspired a wealth of discussion among the many participants. Many of them practitioners – mentors, lawyers, social workers, professionals working in correctional homes, professionals working on prevention programs and independent monitoring – who were eager to share their own views and practical experience in implementing the existing law on juvenile justice.
While the majority noted that the existing legal framework was solid and largely consistent with EU and international standards, many noted the need for ensuring that accountabilities were clear, and adequate resources were allocated to ensure the good intentions in the new law were fully realized.
“The current juvenile justice law is a landmark law that is largely consistent with UN and other international guidelines, however laws are only as good as the quality of their enforcement,” said Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative.
At the end of the hearing the Committee proposed a set of conclusions and called on participants to submit additional recommendations to be tabled for adoption at the next sitting of the Committee.
The need to introduce and adequately finance new mechanisms to ensure prevention and social reintegration were also noted in the conclusions. The public hearing called for the new law to mandate the establishment of a fund for free legal aid to be made available to those children who could not otherwise afford legal assistance, and a victim’s compensation fund for child victims. Participants also noted the need to ensure bylaws are developed to establish standard procedures for making and monitoring disciplinary measures.
The quality of enforcement or implementation of the existing law was noted by many to be hampered by lack of resources for professional capacity development, prevention programmes, and social reintegration programmes. It was to no surprise that the public hearing called on all ministries – Justice, Labour and Social Policy, and Interior – to allocate sufficient budget to ensure that the institutions responsible for it implementation are able to fulfill their responsibly as proscribed in the law.
“The first law was adopted with a high level of consensus - it was voted in by the opposition and the ruling party - together we wanted to establish a better and more efficient system. Today we have gathered to take a look at what we have achieved and we need to do to continue strengthening the system,” said Ms. Cvetanka Ivanova, President of the Parliament Committee for Labour and Social Policy.
The public hearing was convened by the Parliament Committee for Labour and Social Policy with technical support from UNICEF as part of the EU funded and UNICEF co-funded and implemented “Justice for Children” Project. With support from the EU and UNICEF, the project is helping the Government reform the justice system for children to bring it in line with EU and international standards. Focusing on three pillars - improving the normative framework, capacity building, and prevention – the project will contribute to closing the gap between what is written in the law and the actual practice.
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Suzie Pappas Capovska