Children in conflict with the law
The term ‘children in conflict with the law’ refers to anyone under 18 who comes into contact with the justice system as a result of being accused of committing a criminal offense. Children in conflict with the law are among the most vulnerable of all children. Their behavioural problems are often the result of psychological or socio-economic problems, and many of them are themselves victims of abuse, violence, neglect and discrimination.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, no child should be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention and imprisonment of children should be used only as a last resort, and for the shortest period of time, as it has a very negative impact on children’s development. The government is required to develop and implement a comprehensive juvenile justice policy aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency and addressing its underlying causes, and to provide young offenders alternatives to the criminal justice system. Alternatives include diversion (directing children away from the criminal justice system and towards community solutions), restorative justice (promoting reconciliation, restitution and responsibility through the involvement of the child, family members, victims and communities), and alternatives to imprisonment (counselling, probation and community service).
In Thailand, the issue of juvenile delinquency is a growing problem. Major issues include:
• The minimum age of criminal responsibility is just 10 years of age, which is lower than the internationally accepted minimum age of 12 years old. This means children as young as 10 years old can be charged with a crime and sentenced to detention centres.
• Limited alternatives to the detention of children.
• Overcrowded conditions, both in Juvenile Observation and Protection Centres and in Juvenile Training Centres. In May 2011, there were about 3,600 children being held in Juvenile Observation and Protection Centres, and 6,900 children in Juvenile Training Centres. In addition, children who committed minor offenses, such as shoplifting, are being housed together with children who have committed serious offenses, such as murder.
• The lack of adequate facilities, services and activities at Juvenile Training Centres to effectively address the needs of young offenders, promote their development and assist in their reform and rehabilitation.
• The lack of systematic follow-up and support for children and families after the children are released from detention, which is crucial to help them reintegrate into their communities and assume a constructive role in society. As a result, many young offenders return to criminal activity. Negative attitudes toward young offenders, which often results in public opinion that favours harsh and punitive measures that have been shown to be ineffective in reducing juvenile delinquency.
• Discrimination against children in conflict with the law, which leads to limited opportunities for these children to assume a constructive role in society upon release from detention.
What we do
UNICEF is working with various partners to:
• Reduce the number of juvenile offenders through the development of a strong child protection system;
• Promote and improve alternatives to detention for children in conflict with the law and ensure that detention is used only as a measure of last resort;
• Develop activities that better address the needs of children who are placed in in detention. These activities are aimed at promoting the development of life skills, such as analytical and emotional management skills;
• Set up a systematic follow-up and support system for young offenders and families to ensure that they do not return to criminal activities after being released from detention;
• Set up appropriate referral system and assistance for children under 10 years old who become in conflict with the law;
• Advocate for increasing the age of criminal responsibility from the age of 10 to at least the internationally accepted minimum age of 12;
• Reduce discrimination against young offenders by educating the public about factors that lead these children to commit crimes and promoting understanding and compassion for them.
UNICEF believes that all children should be protected from violence, abuse and exploitation. We therefore promote rehabilitation for young offenders through programmes that involve not only the children, but also their families and communities. This is a safer, more appropriate and more effective approach than punitive measures. Justice systems designed for adults often lack the capacity to adequately address the needs of children, and they are more likely to harm than improve a child’s chances for reintegration into society. For all these reasons, UNICEF strongly advocates diversion, restorative justice and alternatives to detention.
• The minimum age of criminal responsibility is just 10 years of age • Limited alternatives to the detention of children
• Overcrowded conditions, both in Juvenile Observation and Protection Centres and in Juvenile Training Centres.
• Lack of adequate facilities, services and activities at Juvenile Training Centres
• The lack of systematic follow-up and support for children and families after the children are released from detention
• Discrimination against children in conflict with the law