Giving children a better chance in life
How UNICEF and UNV can make a difference
By Margje Talen, UN Volunteer, Tajikistan
As a Social Work Specialist, I started a year ago to work on behalf of UNICEF in Tajikistan as a UN Volunteer. I had already been in the country for a year, volunteering with VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) in Qurgon-Teppa. During that time, I was supporting the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Alternative Programme (JJAP) in the Tajikistan's southern region of Khatlon as part of a UNICEF project funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC. Building on this expertise, I happily joined UNICEF's Child Protection Section in Dushanbe, as UNV as a continuation of and building on what I was doing before as a VSO volunteer.
Training for staff of the Police Reception and Referral Center of Dushanbe and Khujand
With the financial support of the SDC, UNICEF together with the Government has put an effective system of diversion and alternatives to imprisonment for children who are in conflict with the law.
My role was to support law enforcement bodies, actors of the judicial system and the Government at both national and sub-national levels by supporting a non-residential, community-based rehabilitation service for children in conflict with the law. More particularly, my focus was on building the capacity of the psycho-social support mechanism within the Juvenile Justice System: an improved capacity of this mechanism means an improved referring system, that is, one that follows an approach that is friendlier to the child.
Although the process of change goes slowly, work in this field is highly rewarding.
The vast majority of young people who come in contact with the criminal justice system are from marginalized families and impoverished backgrounds. A community-based service can be effective in rehabilitating those young people who are in conflict with the law. Using punishment only, without any support or care, will actually increase the risk of re-offending. These children at risk have better chances in life when receive psycho-social support instead of the usual punishment. The idea of child-friendly juvenile justice goes hand in hand with protecting the most vulnerable. That is why UNICEF's project matters to me.
UN Volunteer, Margje Talen, using the Life Skill game to talk to juveniles.
Over the past few months, I built the capacity of the staff in different ways. During one of the trainings, I taught them how to effectively use the 'Life Skills Game' which I specifically developed to use here in Tajikistan. The game helps social workers to talk with children about daily situations in a non-threatening way.
I also worked on revising the juvenile justice guidelines for the staff of the community-based rehabilitation service and of the referring bodies.
The community-based services is embedded in the centres for additional education. This is why we also worked with the Ministry of Education and Science on the revision of the rules and regulations of the centres to allow this.
Building capacity of psycho-social staff working with children in conflict with the law in Penjikent.
This spring, I was pleased to set up the first Intervision Network meeting with psycho-social support staff from institutions serving children in Dushanbe. The network will serve to support professional staff of closed schools under the Ministry of Education and Sciences, Boys Colony under the Ministry of Justice, the Girls Support Centre under the Committee on Women and Family Affairs (CWFA), and the Reception and Referral Centre under the Ministry of Interior. Ultimately, the idea is to enhance the quality of services for children at risk and in conflict with the law, and children who are victim of violence.
Once a week, I focus on building staff capacity at the Girl Support Centre, which is the only state-run organisation in Tajikistan providing care and assistance to girls exposed to or at risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. Again, substantial efforts have to be further made for the Centre to fully achieve its purpose, but I was more than happy to have the chance to support in this.