A community organization offers skills and a second chance to troubled boys in Papua New Guinea
In the past decade, the number of children in conflict with the law in our region reached alarming proportions. The majority of these children commit petty offences related to substance abuse or minor offences against property – although in some countries, many detained children have committed no offence other than being on the street. Economic deprivation, social marginalization and parental neglect of basic physical and emotional needs are often the root causes of these offences.
• Violence against children in conflict with the law. Police brutality, living conditions in the jails and detention with adults exposes children to violence and misuse of power that places them at high risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and can harmfully impact their physical or psychological development. The denial of access to child-friendly facilities and services is at odds with international guidelines on the administration of juvenile justice.
• Lack of child sensitivity in the justice system. In addition to being detained with adults, many children are tried as adults. Non-custodial measures should enable a child to adequately reintegrate into a community and have a meaningful social life. The low rates of repeat offences among young people who are diverted from custody make the case for different, child-sensitive approaches.
• Social and economic disparities. The background of children in conflict with the law and the nature of the offences indicate that increasing social and economic disparities play a significant role in exacerbating children’s and young people’s conflict with the law.
• Inadequate data. Our region lacks complete, reliable and disaggregated data on children in conflict with the law because police units, juvenile courts and detention centres often do not properly maintain records, case profiles and other documents or sufficiently disaggregate data according to age.
UNICEF in Action
UNICEF takes the following steps to improve the situation of children in conflict with the law:
• promoting ‘diversionary systems’ so children in conflict with the law for minor offences can be diverted from court appearance and custodial punishment;
• advocating ‘restorative justice’ systems that do not place children in detention or jail but empowers the community, victims and offenders to take greater responsibility over juvenile offending;
• urging governments and communities to apply more ‘alternatives to deprivation of liberty’; including diversion from formal proceedings wherever possible and applying restorative justice in the community rather than lengthy periods of remand or custodial sentences;
• collecting data, creating databases and developing indicators to achieve the goal of evidence-based programming for all child protection issues.