Criminalization of children happens very easily in Georgia, UNICEF expert says
Aleko Kamushadze, 17, in Avchala children's colony, Tbilisi, 2005
Assessment of the administration of juvenile justice systemTBILISI. 1 December, 2006. At the invitation of UNICEF, international expert and professor of law at Essex University, Caroline Hamilton, visited Georgia last week to assess the situation in relation to juvenile justice administration and to draw up concrete recommendations for policy reform.
Ms Hamilton had meetings with the representatives of the Parliament of Georgia, Ministries of Interior Affairs and Justice and the Supreme Court. She visited children in pre-trial detention facilities, police isolation units and youth colonies to get a clear picture of the situation and to define further actions.
“The main area of concern is that the Georgian criminal justice system is very rigid and does not meet children’s needs,” said Caroline Hamilton. “Considering the existing gaps in the system, it is very easy to criminalize children.”
Deprivation of a child’s liberty should only be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time. Unfortunately, detention in Georgia is used as the first and the only resort, and is not compatible with international legal standards for the administration of juvenile justice. Detention before trial should be avoided to the greatest extent possible, and all efforts should be made to apply alternative measures.
State efforts should be directed towards the prevention of juvenile offences. The Government should address the offending behaviour of children, study the causes behind this behaviour and try to change these. The causes can be varied such as poverty, poor parenting, and homelessness. Efforts should be directed towards eradicating these causes and thus change the pattern of offending behaviour.
If a child becomes involved in the criminal justice system, current law and practice should focus on rehabilitation. A range of non-judicial alternatives and sentencing options like release under supervision of parents, bail foster care etc should be applied.
The administration of juvenile justice requires specific skills. International standards envisage the setting up of a comprehensive child-centered juvenile justice process administered by specially trained police officers, lawyers, prosecutors and judges. It is recommended to create juvenile courts and special procedures designed to take into account the specific needs of children.
“The impact of the juvenile justice system is extremely negative on the lives of children. It severely affects the psycho-social and emotional development of a juvenile offender, and fails to promote the recovery and social reintegration of a child into society,” said Caroline Hamilton.
Based on the recommendations of Ms Hamilton, UNICEF will facilitate the setting up a group of experts to develop further strategies for juvenile justice system reform.
In 1994, Georgia adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child and thus committed itself to ensure the full implementation of international juvenile justice standards, in particular:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989);
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.