Pacific region turning spotlight on achieving justice for children
PORT MORESBY, PAPUA NEW GUINEA, 10 March, 2009 – The Government of Papua New Guinea in partnership with UNICEF is hosting for the first time sub-regional consultation focused on juvenile justice today amid the alleged rise in the number of children committing criminal offences across the Asia- Pacific region.
Delegates participating from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands will emphasize that although most of these children commit only minor, petty crimes, the tendency is to lock them up – as a punishment and as an education or rehabilitation measure.
Global evidence shows that deprivation of liberty is rarely an effective way to promote a child’s rehabilitation and prevent repeat offenders.
Delegates will also highlight some of the best practice examples from the region including:
Fiji: Comprehensive baseline data collection to identify vulnerable children who are in conflict with law;
Justice for Children refers to children in conflict with the law, but also those children who have a right to access justice as survivors, witnesses and it also covers the traditional systems that have an obligation to protect children and empower them to seek justice. The key entry point for protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law is by tackling over-reliance on detention and formal criminal justice responses. Key entry point for protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law is by tackling over-reliance on detention and formal criminal justice responses.
“Around half of our populations are under the age of 18, and many experience abuse, violence or other legal right violations. This meeting offers us an opportunity to explore ways of strengthening our system so that it takes the rights of children seriously, and sees them as one of its most crucial stakeholders.” said Mr Chronox Manek, Chief Ombudsman while making remarks on the consultation meeting. “As a concrete measure, we were the first country in the Pacific to establish juvenile courts”, he added. The meeting will enable countries in the region to learn about innovative strategies for supporting children to access the justice system, strengthen juvenile justice systems and draw on the Melanesian principles of restorative justice that have been used by traditional justice systems for many generations.
The Government of Papua New Guinea has been undertaking a range of justice reforms to make its system more child-friendly. The juvenile justice reforms are an example of this. Bringing together Melanesian tradition, restorative justice and contemporary juvenile justice principles, the ongoing process of rolling out a specialized juvenile justice system across the country. This is already resulting in a reduction in the number of children still in custody and an increase in the number of children who are diverted away from the formal system.
Mr. Benny Metio, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Justice and Attorney General commending the efforts for holding the regional meeting stated that, “the Government has amended the Evidence Act to reduce the hardship on vulnerable witnesses and we are strengthening skills of village courts officials in child protection. The Department of Health and the Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee are rolling out Family Support Centers across the country to provide survivors of violence with a central, multidisciplinary support structure that will increase the capacity of these survivors to both receive care and support, and seek justice. Other countries in the region have also made significant progress. “
The UN Secretary-General’s Global Study on Violence Against Children in 2005 revealed that children in the region are subject to illegal arrests, beatings, intimidation and forced confessions at the hands of police and other officials. Too often, these children find themselves detained together with adults, in over-crowded and unhygienic police holding cells and detention centers, where they are vulnerable to violence and abuse. Many directors and staff of custodial facilities believe that most of the children in those places should not be there and agree that conditions of detention are inappropriate. By international standards, children must, at minimum, be kept in a separate cell from adult detainees. But with limited resources and prison overcrowding, this is often not feasible.
UNICEF’s main entry point for protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law has been tackling over-reliance on detention and formal criminal justice responses. This is done by promoting by channeling children away from formal justice system through alternative procedures and programmes described as “ diversion “ and alternatives to detention, particularly for children who commit minor and non-violent crimes. Mr. Hamish Young, Country Representative for UNICEF said that “Strengthening justice systems for children remains a priority for UNICEF and is seen as essential in creating a broader child protection system. For children to enjoy their right to justice, we must also strengthen the links between justice and welfare systems and this workshop seeks to explore ways in which this can be done more effectively.”
The Department of Justice and Attorney General last night welcomed the 40 delegates to the three-day meeting, including 10 children from Papua New Guinea which will conclude on Thursday, 12 March, 2009.
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