Juvenile justice experts from 10 countries (Eastern and South-Eastern Europe) created a sub-regional network
UNICEF supported reform efforts in Moldova’s juvenile justice system were recognized as highly fruitful
A newly created sub–regional network on Juvenile Justice includes legal experts from 10 countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. It strives to become an important actor in a regional drive to establish juvenile justice systems, which promote respect for the children’s rights and are in line with the European standards and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The network was created as a result of three days of discussions within the “Juvenile Justice in the Eastern and South-Eastern Europe” Regional Forum, which took place in Chisinau on September 14-16. The event gathered officials, representatives of the justice systems, and NGOs of Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Albania, Macedonia, Estonia and Kazakhstan.
The network will serve as a platform for permanent knowledge and experience exchange, as participant countries face problems and phenomena that reflect both similarities in the inherited legal systems, with standards often less than favourable for young people, and new realities and opportunities that have accompanied transition.
The Institute for Penal Reforms, one of the main UNICEF counterparts in the creation of alternatives to detention in Moldova, was elected to coordinate the creation of the network until the first general meeting. A mailing list will be established and all materials of the Chisinau Forum will be largely disseminated, expecting to catch the attention of all the interested juvenile justice experts in the region who would like to join the initiative.
According to Renate Winter, International Judge for the United Nations and juvenile justice expert invited to the Forum, "This initiative represents a unique opportunity for countries in the region to share their experience in this field. The Forum showed how committed they are to establish juvenile justice systems which promote respect for the human rights of children, one of the main requirements of the Acquis communautaire. Such systems would encourage diversion from the formal justice system to extra-judicial procedures whenever appropriate, promote restorative justice which would focus on reparation rather than punishment, provide community based options which prevent deprivation of liberty and would promote the juveniles early re-socialization."
Participants to the Forum highly appreciated the rapid pace of the juvenile justice reform in Moldova. Initiated only less then three years ago, the process has brought about significant progresses: specialized judges and prosecutors have been appointed; the first socio-legal services have been created, and alternative measures to detention of adolescents that commit offences have been launched – probation, community work, and mediation. All these efforts are coordinate by a National Juvenile Justice Working Group, established with UNICEF assistance.
However, there is still a lot to be done to ensure that the criminal justice system fully complies with the specific needs of minors. Children are subject to preventive detention for inadmissibly long periods, and detention alternatives are still poorly developed.
A study on the “Situation of Children in Places of Detention”, published by the Institute of Penal Reform (IPR) and UNICEF in 2004, revealed that the right to legal defence was the most often violated in case of children in conflict with the law:
• 85 % of juveniles in pre-trial detention have never met a lawyer
• In over 40 % of cases, pre-trial detention exceeded 4 months, in violation of national legislation
Extended detention of juveniles has severe consequences on their development and personality. The promotion of alternatives to detention is a priority for the justice system in Moldova, so that imprisonment of children in conflict with the law becomes an exceptional measure. In cases where detention can not be avoided, it should be for the shortest possible period of time.
Other violations relate to lack of information on rights, excessive duration of interrogations and inhuman detention conditions. Many juveniles declared that they have been exposed to physical and psychological maltreatment by the law enforcement bodies and that they are treated as criminals.
The majority of children in detention were arrested for theft (over 80%), robberies (6%), illegal entries (2%), and property damage (2%), few for murder, rape and severe physical injuries. Most of them come from socially-vulnerable or incomplete families, show severe psychological disorders manifested through extremely low self-esteem and poor levels of education.
To address the problem, mobile legal teams were created within the joint UNICEF and IRP project, and pay weekly visits to the pre-trial detention facilities, where they provide free legal and psycho-social assistance to the young detainees and contribute to the observance of their rights.