EU and UNICEF: Fewer children behind bars, greater reforms needed
BRUSSELS, 27 June,2013 - Children in Central and Eastern Europe and central Asia have seen steady and positive reforms in children's rights but still face huge barriers in accessing justice, according to a new European Union-UNICEF report launched today at a conference on justice for children in Brussels.
The EU and UNICEF welcomed moves by governments in the region, including in countries due to join the EU, to widen the scope of reforms towards systematically protecting the rights of all children in the justice process. Broader reforms will include ending the culture of impunity by authorities and giving access to justice for all children who are victims or witnesses to crimes.
Legislation in many of these countries is moving closer to international standards. Importantly, changes in legislation on sentencing and other reforms have also led to a substantial decline in the number of children languishing behind bars.
“Despite some progress, there is still scope for considerable improvement when it comes to children’s rights. There is a need to overcome the institutionalisation of children and to promote less technical term in support of families. And our concerns don’t just end there. It is essential that countries in our neighbourhood not only adhere to international human rights standards, but they must also ensure the effective implementation of recently-adopted criminal justice legislation, which in some countries is very progressive” European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said in his opening speech at the conference.
“The more children in conflict with the law are shut out of society, the harder it is for them to heal,” said Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Progress has been made but justice is often blind to children’s needs. Justice systems must adjust to meet the rights of all children.”
The high level regional conference brought together some 120 justice ministers, ombudspersons and participants from civil society, international organisations and the European Commission. The gathering held debates on the issues highlighted in the report – which was based on a three-year project funded by the EU using interviews with children, in addition to official complaints and assessments. The countries covered in the research were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Ukraine.
The reforms strengthen legislation and capacity building measures such as analysis and review of juvenile justice secondary laws, establishment of juvenile justice working groups to develop action plans, training of trainers and introduction of diversion, probation and mediation pilots. Research on torture and ill-treatment – child-reported beatings, rape and humiliation while in detention - was also conducted by UNICEF, ombudspersons and civil society to ensure the commitment of authorities to combat these practices.
The conference ends on Friday, with governments highlighting policy priorities for the road ahead.
For more information:
Website of European Instrument for Democracy & Human Rights:
Website of the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Štefan Füle: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/fule/
Link to the report “Juvenile Justice in the CEE/CIS region: Progress, Challenges, Obstacles and Opportunities”: http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/EU_UNICEF_Juvenile_Justice_in_the_CEECIS_Region.pdf