Juvenile Justice Act seeks consultation from children and communities
9 March 2007 – The Ministry of Justice and UNICEF are consulting children, parents, island officials, policymakers and young people who have been in contact with the law this week on a groundbreaking new proposed Juvenile Justice Act (JJA). The Act, informed by proposed Government legislative reforms around juvenile justice, aims to reconcile two apparently conflicting needs: the need to punish crimes committed by children under the age of 18, and the need to ensure the welfare and rehabilitation of child offenders.
The proposed JJA was developed keeping in mind that all children have a right to a protective environment. However, the Ministry of Justice and UNICEF recognize that alongside legislative reforms necessary to strengthen this environment, improved capacity of the judiciary is required to ensure children as well as all citizens have access to justice. The Act is based on an analysis of the situation in the Maldives, where few serious crimes are committed by children but where stigmatization of young offenders and lack of a strong “safety net” can contribute to repeat offenses. It also conforms to international standards based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Ratified by the Maldives in 1991, the CRC states that every child, whether in conflict with the law or not, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and in a way that reinforces the child’s respect for human rights and helps the child to assume a constructive role in society. Community consultations being held this week will further ensure the JJA’s relevance to the Maldives by gathering recommendations from children, community members and duty bearers.
The JJA provides a framework to establish clear responsibilities and accountabilities on the part of police, parents, government and children in conflict with the law. It will also clarify the rights of victims, as well as of child offenders and their parents and communities.
An important feature of the Act is its focus on Restorative Justice, an approach that aims to provide justice to the victim(s) of crimes and hold the young offender accountable for his or her offense, while keeping the child out of prison when the gravity of the offense permits it. International evidence shows that this approach is both more effective in preventing repeat offenses and more economical than putting children into prison. It also reduces the stigmatization of child offenders – which can make it difficult for them to reintegrate into their communities and leave them socially isolated and vulnerable to further offenses – and helps avoid exposing children to rough prison situations.
The Ministry of Justice and UNICEF will join the Ministry of Gender and Family’s Children’s Day festivities on Thaa Veymandoo on May 10 with a series of consultations on the JJA, including consultations with children and parents that will be open to the public. Consultations are being held earlier this week with young people who have been in contact with the law as children, key stakeholders and policymakers in Male’ and on Meemu Atoll. Apart from giving the participants the opportunity to influence the drafting of the proposed JJA and make it relevant to their communities, the consultations aim to increase awareness of the JJA and awareness of children’s rights in general.
Sherine Guirguis, Head of Communication, Advocacy & Planning, UNICEF Maldives: firstname.lastname@example.org / +960 334 3346