|© UNICEF Turkey/2009|
|UNICEF Representative in Turkey Reza Hossaini speaking at the opening session of the recent Ankara symposium on children in need of protection.|
ANKARA, Turkey, 11 May 2009 – Experts from four continents have recommended that all countries set up national child-information systems to identify children at risk, as well as the risks they face. The recommendation was made in the concluding statement of a three-day international symposium on children at risk and in need of protection, which took place recently in Ankara.
The symposium, held 27-29 April, was organized by the Turkish Parliament and the Turkish National Police with technical support from UNICEF. ‘Children in Conflict with the Law’ was its main theme.
Participants included academics, judges, public officials, psychologists and other experts from countries as far apart as Azerbaijan, Germany, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Oman, Serbia, Sudan, Turkey and the United States.
Child-friendly justice systems
“The issue of children at risk is one of the most important social issues of our age, and we must all face up to it together and find solutions,” declared the Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Köksal Toptan. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and five other Turkish Government ministers also sent messages of support.
“If society looks at the child in conflict with the law as a criminal machine, then we will drive him deeper into crime,” noted the General Director of the Turkish National Police, Oğuz Kağan Köksal.
Earlier, UNICEF Representative in Turkey Reza Hossaini had spoken of the need to put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) into practice.
“On the 20th anniversary of the Convention, we need to renew our commitment for a child-friendly and child-specific justice system for children. This should include specific legislation, specific institutions and trained personnel,” Mr. Hossaini argued. He went on to underline the point that “a successful justice-for-children programme should have a strong preventive component.”
1 million child detainees
Over a million children worldwide are thought to be in detention – notwithstanding governments’ obligation to ensure that children are only detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.
Most of these children have been involved in minor or petty crimes and are first-time offenders. Typically, they have not been convicted but are awaiting trial in detention centres where they are likely to be beaten, painfully restrained and subjected to humiliating treatment. Contrary to the CRC, detention of children with adults remains routine in many countries.
The President of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, Renate Winter, emphasized that good laws are not enough and that governments must provide the means to implement them.
“It costs less to establish prevention programmes with the participation of families and communities than it costs to have a child in conflict with the law or in a closed establishment and stigmatized, who will never work and never become a tax payer,” she said.
Looking ahead to 2010
The symposium’s concluding statement was the outcome of a series of workshops during which the participants exchanged information about best practices in the areas of prevention services, intervention strategies, and monitoring and evaluation activities.
“It has been one of the very few events bringing together different countries from the North and the South to discuss one of the most important challenges we and our children face,” said Child Protection Advisor Jean Claude Legrand from the UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, in an address delivered on behalf of Regional Director Steven Allen.
Finally, a decision was taken to make the symposium an annual event incorporating regional preparatory workshops and a forum to which high-level politicians and officials, including the UN Secretary-General, would be invited. In 2010, the symposium will focus on the prevention of violence at schools and ensuring safety in learning environments.