At a glance: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea’s juvenile justice reform is showing results

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© UNICEF video
Young offenders in Papua New Guinea work on a farm used as an incarceration prevention programme at Port Moresby City Mission New Hope Farm.

By Shantha Bloemen

KUNDIAWA, Papua New Guinea, 10 March 2006 – Michael and his friend Samson were both 16 years old when their pursuit of adolescent mischief went too far. They got caught stealing plastic pipes in the town of Kundiawa in Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands. First they were beaten up by the police, then locked up in a prison cell, where they were bullied constantly by other inmates – all of them adults.

In Papua New Guinea, young offenders like Michael and Samson are often locked up with adults while wait for trial. Beatings, from both adult inmates and police officers, are routine. A recent Human Rights Watch Report shows that about 75 per cent of all children who were brought into police custody were assaulted.

Community-based juvenile justice system

When Magistrate Siki, a committed advocate of juvenile reform who presides at Kundiawa Juvenile Court, heard their case he put the boys under the care of the local juvenile probation officer and juvenile justice volunteers.

“The scariest part was when we were beaten up by the police and locked up in the cell,” recalled Michael. “But once we appeared before the magistrate, things got better. He put us under probation and we were able to go home. There we had to report to the juvenile justice volunteer, who made sure we did not get into trouble again.”

Juvenile justice volunteers are all respected leaders in the community. Most of them have a strong commitment to working with children. Thanks to their involvement, juvenile offenders can go home under probation and report to a juvenile justice volunteer periodically, rather than being locked up with adults.

“Most of the crimes we experience in this area are petty, like shoplifting, drug abuse, making home brew,” explained Magistrate Siki, who has been a practicing magistrate since 1998. “Often the young people who commit these crimes come from poor families or are missing a parent.

“Ultimately we want to divert children from being locked up with adults and find alternative forms of justice than jail, which can avoid children being exposed to hardened criminals. We encourage community-based solutions through mediation. If this does not work, then they can be charged under the formal juvenile court system,” said Magistrate Siki.

Most of the young offenders who have gone through the system agree that the juvenile justice volunteers make them feel safer. “We are happy to report to the volunteers. They live close to our homes and are friendly. We feel safe with them,” said Peter, who served his sentence for stealing under community probation.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Magistrate Siki of the Kundiawa Juvenile Court is a committed advocate of juvenile reform who puts convicted boys under the care of the local juvenile probation officers.

Juvenile court established and expanded

As part of an intensive effort by UNICEF and partners, Papua New Guinea’s first juvenile court was established in July 2003. The effort seeks to completely overhaul the juvenile justice system and put in place better mechanisms to protect the rights of children who come into conflict with the law. Another six juvenile courts have since been established.

“The first step of the reform strategy is to put in place good legislation and policy, and the second step is to put it into practice,” said Bruce Grant, UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Papua New Guinea. “Now that we have had new laws enacted, things are starting to progress.”

As well as the juvenile courts, 13 of the country’s 20 provinces now have active juvenile justice committees and working groups, laying the groundwork for more comprehensive reform.

“We now have police officers trained to become juvenile court officers, so when juveniles come to the police station we are automatically ready to handle their cases and are fully trained on their special rights,” says Michael Awagl, Senior Constable and Prosecutor for the Juvenile Court.

The combined efforts made by police, the courts, community groups, donors and UN agencies are starting to have an impact.

“Fewer young people are now being formally arrested by the police. More are being cautioned and given warnings,” said Mr. Grant. “Communities are also involved in helping juvenile offenders, so you see fewer kids come through the court system, which is a great achievement.”

 


 

 

Audio

9 March 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on the reform of Papua New Guinea’s juvenile system.
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