© UNICEF Serbia/Zoran Jovanovic Maccak

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.

The challenges

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.

© UNICEF Serbia/Zoran Jovanovic Maccak

Building the evidence

  • UNICEF’s assessment of juvenile justice reforms in Serbia has revealed the range of challenges facing the system and the difficulties in mainstreaming diversionary schemes, which are vital to shift from a punitive to a restorative system.
  • UNICEF is supporting a working group of cross-sectoral professionals improve the data-management systems in the area which concerns juvenile offenders. The outcome of this work will be better data from police, social protection and the justice system on juveniles, and our next step will be to improve the use of such data in shaping the ongoing reforms of the system.

Strengthening systems

  • UNICEF supported the establishment of the Juvenile Justice Council and is helping the Council take the lead on juvenile justice reforms, including the defining of a juvenile justice strategy, the analysis of juvenile justice trends and the fostering of policy dialogue between justice and social protection. The aim is to remove the barriers to the implementation of justice reforms, such as the introduction of diversionary schemes.
  • Our assessment of juvenile justice implementation is the basis for a three-year reform initiative by the Ministry of Justice. UNICEF will support the provision of technical assistance to define procedures and standards for diversionary schemes.

Creating social accountability

  • UNICEF has promoted and supported the monitoring of juvenile justice measures over the years, including support for such independent rights monitoring bodies as the Deputy Ombudsman for Children, and has worked with the media and others to raise awareness of the rights of children in conflict with the law. In addition, our work to provide the normative framework, the training, guidance and standards for the judiciary, police and social workers over the past decade supports their accountability under the law, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international standards.

Working in partnership

  • In addition to working closely with all relevant government ministries and with the Juvenile Justice Council, UNICEF is fostering dialogue between justice professionals working in the policy, social protection and justice system, as well as with non-government organizations that work with children at risk.






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