UNICEF statement to 28th Conference of European Ministers of Justice, Lanzarote, Spain
Council of Europe
UNICEF Statement by Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar Deputy Regional Director, UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS
Mr.Chairman, Madam Deputy Secretary General, Honorable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of UNICEF, I would like to thank and congratulate the Government of Spain and the Council of Europe for organizing this milestone event that is addressing issues and concerns of essential importance for protection of children and their rights across Europe. The substantial preparatory process preceding this Conference has built a solid foundation: the drafting of the new Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse that opened for signature here today, as well as to the preparatory Conference on International Justice for Children that took place in Strasbourg during 17-18 September.
In UNICEF we are proud of our long-term partnership on a number of critical child protection issues with the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe programme “Building a Europe for and with Children” has inspired us to seal our commitment through signing of a Joint Agreement in January of this year.
With a field presence in 21 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNICEF will strengthen this cooperation and remain a committed partner to governments in supporting the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols and in that context also support the ratification process and implementation of the provisions in the new Council of Europe Convention.
This Conference has set out to address a number of key issues of critical importance to improve the access to justice for vulnerable groups, among them children. Indeed, protection for unaccompanied and separated migrant children is of primary importance and needs improvement in Europe as in other parts of the world. All children regardless of their origin, nationality or status are entitled to the same standards of assistance and protection. We therefore particularly welcome the Council of Europe’s commitment to uphold these standards and offer our support in the process of examining the situation of unaccompanied and separated migrant and asylum seekers children in Europe.
We also welcome the discussion in this Conference on child friendly justice systems. We would like to share today some of the findings of a recent research carried out by UNICEF in collaboration with National Statistical Offices in all the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The report from this research, which will be made available to you, is called “Lost in the justice system”.
On the positive side, the report reveals that there has been some progress regarding the situation of children in conflict with the law. In contrast to what may be the common belief, juvenile offending rates seem not to be increasing. It is also encouraging to note some child friendly features of current justice systems, such as an increasing use of alternative community-based sentencing and a suitably high minimum age of criminal responsibility (at 14-16 years). Perhaps the most important finding is that the decline in juvenile offending, against a backdrop of economic growth in the region, and shrinking child populations provide a window of opportunity for reforming justice systems and making them more child friendly.
Reform is necessary. Justice systems in many parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are not serving children or society well, and in many instances cannot fairly claim to be delivering justice. There is a need to articulate the basic aims of juvenile justice – namely, that before the age of adulthood, emphasis needs to be placed on assisting a young person to avoid behavior that will bring him or her into conflict with the law, as opposed to punishing him or her for an offence committed. Reforms also need to address some of the remaining challenges highlighted by the report:
Lessons learned from our work, and from the report we have just released, reveal the urgent need for further clear guidance on the application of international Guidelines on Juvenile Justice and to challenge some of the current mis-applications of the international standards The European guidelines for child-friendly justice could provide some of that urgently needed clarification. For example:
UNICEF recognizes the importance of the work being carried out by the Council of Europe to further the access to justice for vulnerable groups, in particular children. Indeed, the Council of Europe is fulfilling its vital standard setting role. The gathering of data and knowledge on unaccompanied and separated children, and the development of tools for professionals that is being proposed will also contribute to the reform of social protection systems. With our field presence, UNICEF is committed to support governments in the implementation of these standards across the region, recognizing that this will entail long-term engagement in systems reform.
A child friendly justice system is part of a wider set of reforms of the justice system in the region. We are seeing a new wave of social sector reforms coming after a period of neglect. A child friendly justice system has the potential to accelerate and catalyze these changes.
Tajikistan - Children’s centres provide an alternative approach to juvenile justice Jul 2007
Kyrgyzstan - Australia National Committee contributes funds to help reform juvenile justice system Jul 2007
UN Admin. Kosovo - Juvenile Justice system kicks off Mar 2007
Moldova - Justice system becomes more youth-friendly Feb 2007
Uzbekistan - A way to help to children in conflict with the law Oct 2006