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UNICEF calls for change in justice systems on behalf of child prisoners in E. Asia and Pacific

BANGKOK, 18 March 2004 – A UNICEF report released today calls for urgent improvements in judicial systems for children and young people in East Asia and the Pacific.

The report, “Justice for children: Detention as a last resort”, released in Bangkok, notes that children behind bars face inhuman conditions and treatment. They are denied basic rights, such as decent healthcare and education, and are highly vulnerable to drug abuse, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

“The vast majority of children in conflict with the law have suffered a history of abuse, including violence at home and at school, sexual exploitation, drug addiction and poverty. They need care and support services, such as drug rehabilitation and family counselling, rather than punishment in a criminal justice system designed for adults,” said Mehr Khan, UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific.

Many children in detention in East Asia and the Pacific have been convicted of only petty crimes or are awaiting trial, sometimes for extended periods. Many of these are guilty only of being homeless or stateless; or they are the victims of child trafficking and other forms of abuse.

The UNICEF report says that over 1 million children are in detention worldwide. Although 90% of all children who come into contact with the police are first-time offenders, they are often held with adult criminals, in breach of international law. Exposure to adult criminal influence and the prison environment can have a powerful and negative effect on children at a highly impressionable stage of their development, says the UNICEF report.

The report calls for alternatives to imprisonment for children, including non-custodial sentences and community-based programmes designed to reintegrate juvenile offenders into society and to deal with the multiple root causes of delinquency. These include dialogue between victims and offenders, which has been demonstrated to reduce repeat offending and increase children’s sense of responsibility for their actions.

A number of innovative initiatives from around the region are highlighted, focusing on every stage of the legal process. These include the development of child-friendly legal frameworks, the creation of alternatives to detention and the implementation of rehabilitation and reintegration initiatives aimed at preventing juveniles from committing repeat offences.

Other recommendations made in the report include:

  • legislative changes to bring national law into line with international standards on child rights;
  • training for key actors in the justice system to ensure that they are familiar with legislation and sensitive to the particular needs of children, including low-ranking police officers who often decide whether or not a child will enter the criminal justice system in the first place;
  • special efforts to promote gender sensitivity and to protect girls, who are at particular risk of abuse during all stages of judicial proceedings; 
  • consultation with children and young people in the design and implementation of juvenile justice programmes, such as involving young offenders in reaching out to other children.


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For more information and a copy of the report, please contact:

Robert Few, UNICEF EAPRO: 662 356 9499 ext. 9518, 661 746 3048

 


 

 

 

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