Author of UN violence study advocates child rights at criminal justice conference
NEW YORK, 27 April, 2007 – World renowned child rights advocate Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro spoke recently of the global victimisation of children while attending the 16th Session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice this week in Vienna, Austria.
According to Professor Pinheiro who is also the Independent Expert behind the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence Against Children the victimisation of children globally is a much larger problem than crime among children, and this must be the starting point for any discussion of this issue.
“If you take, for instance, the gangs in Central America, most of the homicides and heinous crimes are not being committed by adolescents, but are being committed by adults,” he pointed out. “In Brazil, in my own country, I would say that 95 per cent or more of the homicides are committed by adults.
The new scapegoats
“The number of children as victims is far greater than the number of children as perpetrators,” he said “The problem is that you have the perception of children and adolescents as responsible for the high rates of homicides. This doesn’t correspond to reality, but adolescents are the new scapegoats of the 21st century.”
“You don’t have to criminalise every organisation of youth, which is precisely what happens,” added Mr. Pinheiro. “You just detain every child or adolescent with tattoos, even if you don’t have any indication that they committed crimes.”
Mr. Pinheiro also cited a crucial link between child protection and justice in the handling of crimes such as trafficking and prostitution.
“In many countries, children involved in prostitution are criminalised and even punished because they are involved in something illicit. This is unacceptable,” he asserted. “We must make sure not to indict the victims. This would be the worst thing that could happen.”
Children victimised by adults
Indeed, many marginal activities associated with children and youth – such as street begging and loitering in gangs – are criminalised, and Mr. Pinheiro believes this is a mistake. In most cases, he said, there are adults behind these activities, and the children are being victimised by those adults.
On the subject of Internet-based child abuse and child pornography, for example, he emphasised that legal protection for children has not grown to match the rapid growth of the web. “Most important is to deal with the children [exploited by web-based abuse] as victims and handle their recovery,” he said. “We need to be much more careful than we are."
The 16th Session of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice took place all this week, with meetings concluding today.
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