JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN
Children who are already on the margins of society in Serbia – for whatever reason – are more likely to come up against the legal system. On average, between 3,500 and 4,000 children are reported to commit crimes each year. While reported juvenile crimes account for around 4 per cent of the overall crime rate, serious offences by children are on the rise, as is the number of younger offenders aged just 14 or 15.
The 2006 juvenile justice law, and the creation of the Juvenile Justice Council in 2009, paved the way for innovative ‘diversionary solutions’ to stop children being sucked into the justice system. These are not soft options: young offenders may have to apologise to their victims in person, attend school full-time, carry out community work or enter treatment programmes to tackle alcohol- or drug-related problems. But these solutions are applied in only 3 per cent of all reported juvenile cases.
Most diversionary solutions lack the necessary resources and back-up services. There are questions over which branch of government is responsible – justice or social protection – and a lack of coordination with the health and education services that have a role in treatment programmes or school attendance.
It is difficult to track trends in juvenile offending and monitor reforms, as data-collection systems are not aligned to reform priorities and are not used to monitor the implementation of policies.
Although the law on juvenile justice requires special proceedings and measures to protect child victims and child witnesses from victimization, there are concerns that these are not being used in practice. The information management system itself does not demand information on the treatment of such children.
What we do
UNICEF’s goal is to ensure that juvenile justice is restorative, helping to pull children back into society, rather than pushing them further along the road to criminality and exclusion.
Our work on this issue over the years contributed to the country’s 2006 Law on Juvenile Justice, and we have supported specialized training for judges, prosecutors and the police on the rights and needs of juvenile offenders and, very importantly, children who are the victims or who have witnessed crime.
UNICEF sees diversionary solutions as the very essence of restorative justice to prevent children going through the justice system time after time. This is where we are concentrating our efforts.
Building the evidence
Creating social accountability
Working in partnership