The situation of children in conflict with the law, especially those who land in jail, is a major concern for Moldova. Experts have demonstrated that even short detentions for children have a negative influence on their further development. Staying in detention stigmatizes them, separates them from their families and communities, and has large impact on their opportunity to gain an education. In addition, studies show that very few children who have spent several years in prison adopt a new method of living when they are given their freedom.
In Moldova, infractions committed by children represent ten percent of the total number of infractions registered. The majority of them are economic in nature. Most of the adolescents who break the law are boys between the ages of 16-17 years old. Before placement in detention, the majority of them had dropped out of school. Some of them were homeless or had run away from home. Many of them were victims of abuse or parental neglect. Some had been abandoned.
In Moldova, there are four isolation wards for preventive detention where children are kept: Chisinau, Balti, Cahul, and Rezina. They are isolation wards meant for adults, but children stay in separate cells. In August 2008, there were 40 children kept in these wards. Of those children, 80% were illiterate or did not possess even elementary knowledge of mathematics, history, biology, chemistry, etc.What UNICEF is doing
During the last few years, with the support of UNICEF, Moldova has made important advances in reforming the juvenile justice system. In 2006, the legislation of the Republic of Moldova concerning children in conflict with the law was modified significantly. New amendments had an immediate positive effect on the kinds of sentences applied to children, as well as on the way children's cases are treated during the penal process.
First of all, the length of the maximum detention was reduced, as well as the time children may be kept before the pronouncement of the sentence. In addition, the responsibility for investigating children accused of committing an infraction was transferred from the police to the prosecutor. Modifications in the legislation, likewise, offered to children in detention the right to review their files. In this way, the juvenile justice system has become more friendly to children and closer to European and international standards.
Since September 2008, all children from pre-detention centres, including girls in the women's penitentiary in the village of Rusca, now receive education for the first time. Because they cannot go to the community schools, teachers in the vicinity go to the prison and give lessons to the children. Thus, some rooms in the penitentiaries are transformed into well-equipped study rooms that have been provided everything needed to conduct lessons. Teachers instruct children according to a special program written by the Ministry of Education and Youth and the Ministry of Justice, with financial support from UNICEF and Swedish International Development Agency.
Alternatives to detention
In the area of reform of the juvenile justice system, the first alternatives to detention have begun to be applied, such as: mediation, probation, and community service work. These alternatives are options when the infractions are lighter or less serious and then detention can be avoided.
Mediation is a means of resolving a conflict largely used in cases where minors are accused of a non-violent crime. The victim and the offender come to an understanding through the use of a mediator, without the case going to court.
Community service work assumes/requires the offender to perform community service work, thus avoiding jail time.
Probation. Within the Ministry of Justice, the Probation Department was created in January2007 where probation counsellors administer the cases of children sentenced to alternative forms punishment other than detention.
In spite of the progress made in the area of juvenile justice, children in detention continue to be confronted with many problems. 80 percent of minors interviewed in preventative detention have not had a single consultation with a lawyer regarding their case. In half of the cases, not a single legal representative was present during the hearing, nor did a psychologist or teacher assist with the interrogation of the child.
Continuing reforms in the area of juvenile justice is extremely important to improve the situation of children found in conflict with the law. It is necessary that positive models be implemented at the national level, and the application of alternative punishments must become the rule, not the exception. Likewise, it is necessary to increase the quality of legal, social, and psychological assistance for children in the juvenile justice system through informing the public and training specialists.
· Reduction of maximum sentences for a child from 15 to 12.5 years
· Reduction of the maximum amount of time a child can be held by the police from 72 to 24 hours
· Appointment of prosecutors and judges specialized in examining penal cases involving children
· Institution of educational classes for all children in pre-detention
· Reduction of the number of children in pre-detention by 65%, from 129 in December 2007 to 46 in December 2008
· Reduction of the number of children in detentionby half, from 92 in December 2007 to 46 in December 2008