|© UNICEF video|
|Aleko Kamushadze, age 17, is serving an 18-month sentence for stealing an accordion and a drum from his school.|
By Thomas Nybo
TBILISI, GEORGIA, 10 June 2005 - Aleko Kamushadze stole an accordion and a drum from the basement of his school and now he's serving an 18-month sentence, much of it locked up with dangerous criminals including rapists and murderers.
Aleko looks much younger than his 17 years. He is ill-equipped to fend off larger, stronger detainees and has an almost constant look of shock -- equal parts fear and disbelief.
"At first, I was going to be imprisoned for three years. Then the judge reduced it to one-and-a-half years," says Aleko.
Because of cases like Aleko's, UNICEF is assisting the government of Georgia in reforming its juvenile justice system. UNICEF and committed lawmakers want a separate system of juvenile justice and special juvenile courts to protect the basic rights of children. Another goal is to make sure that imprisonment is seen as a last resort, especially before a child's case is brought to trial.
|© UNICEF video|
|Unicef and committed lawmakers are working to reform the juvenile justice system in Georgia to protect the basic rights of children, namely to prevent unfair imprisonment.|
"Most of the judges and the people who are here to enforce the law do not have any specific training to deal with minor delinquents. And often the response they have is imprisonment. Imprisonment is not the exception, it is the common response. Sometimes a child remains in pre-trial period for a very, very long period of time, and this is sometimes for very minor offences," says Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Georgia’s Representative for UNICEF.
Aleko has been held in a juvenile detention centre for two months since being convicted. Before his trial he spent eight months behind bars at one of Georgia's most notorious adult prisons where abuse was rampant.
"Prison was tough. We were only allowed outside for 10 or 15 minutes. The rest of the time we were in a small room with 30 people. I could barely breathe," Aleko recalls.
UNICEF supported reform efforts in Georgia’s juvenile justice system are part of a global drive to protect young victims of abuse. The issue will be highlighted at the Consultation on Violence against Children in Europe and Central Asia set to take place in Slovenia in early July. One of nine consultations worldwide, the conference is part of the United Nations Secretary General's Study on Violence Against Children which is due out in 2006.
Jihun Sohn also contributed to this report.
10 June 2005:
UNICEF helping reform Georgia’s juvenile justice system