Child-friendly justice

UNICEF promotes children’s equitable access to a friendlier justice system, and supports national partners to administer juvenile justice as per international standards.

Child-friendly justice
© UNICEF/UN041417/Giacomo Pirozzi

The challenge

The situation for children in the criminal justice in Albania needs urgent attention.

A multi-country evaluation focusing on Albania and 11 other countries in Europe and Central Asia identified that Albania had the highest rate of children in detention (178.3 per 100 thousand children aged 14-17 in 2014). Children presumed innocent in pre-trial detention make up the bulk of this figure (83% in 2016). The average duration of pre-trial detention is higher for Albanian children than others in the region (144 days in 2014). Until recently the punitive approach of the Albanian justice system doubled the juvenile re-offending rate from 2012 to 2015, harming them and their communities.

Although 1,167 cases of violence against children were registered by the Albanian police in 2015, there have been no government reports as to the number of children obtaining free legal aid, guaranteed by the state.

Another study from 2015 revealed that Albanian children faced more obstacles in accessing justice than anywhere in the region. These include: lack of standing, financial constraints, lack of information and support, social acceptance of violence against children and norms regarding children’s place in the family, distrust of children towards public authorities, and fear from being discriminated against. Court proceedings are not adapted to children’s rights and needs.

The solution

In March 2017, the Albanian Parliament adopted the Criminal Justice for Children Code, marking an unprecedented legal development and philosophical shift in approaching children’s treatment within the criminal justice system. This effort had UNICEF’s technical and financial support.

For the first time in Albania’s legislative system, children who encounter the law are not treated as adults, adhering to international standards on juvenile justice. Equally important is the provision for law enforcement and justice authorities to collect and report on children’s data using an integrated electronic tracking system. UNICEF is already engaged in the development of such a tracking system. Additionally, UNICEF supports the Ministry of Justice to develop and budget for the National Justice for Children Strategy — a first of its kind document dedicated to child-friendly justice in Albania.

With UNICEF support, Albania developed and enacted the Criminal Justice for Children Code.

In 2016, the State Probation Service brought on service providers for socio-economic reintegration and restorative justice services to children. This test yielded several important results in 2017:

  • 200 children received help to reintegrate into their community
  • Strengthened collaboration between the probation and local government to reintegrate children and remove them from the entrapment of crime
  • Ensured a multi-disciplinary approach to juvenile case management
  • Restorative justice techniques and practices were locally promoted

In Albania, the rate of detention for children went down to 114.3 per 100 thousand children aged 14-17 in 2016, from 179 in 2014 and length of stay in pre-trial detention decreased to 92 days. The decline of juvenile reoffending was noted in 2016.

UNICEF’s advocacy in the preparation and adoption of these legal and policy documents, as well as the promotion of integration and restorative justice practices locally, have convinced many justice system operators that detaining children is not the solution for reducing juvenile delinquency and in violation of international principles. Thus, of 562 convicted juveniles in 2016, 400 cases have been handled by probation services. This approach has impacted, the rate of detention for juveniles, in decline over the past three years.

UNICEF’s advocacy also proved crucial in ensuring adoption of the new Law on Child Rights and Protection in early 2017. The right of the child to be heard, therein stipulated, extends to every judicial and administrative process. This represents a major step forward in equitable access to justice for children. With UNICEF’s support, the drafting of secondary legislation of both the Criminal Justice for Children Code, and of this new law has begun.

The Law on Legal Aid (2017) was aligned with international standards and now guarantees free legal aid to child victims and witnesses of crime, children in conflict with the law and children in administrative and civil proceedings.

With these major developments in the legal and policy framework, the Albanian authorities and UNICEF will now focus on effective implementation, with a view to further improve the lives of children who seek remedy from the justice system and protection from human rights violations. Challenges remain, particularly in the prevention of juvenile delinquency, rehabilitation and societal reintegration of children in conflict and those in contact with the law, the provision of multi-disciplinary services to children as well as use and accessibility of the justice system by children and their families.

Resources

Children, access to justice and discrimination. An overview of judicial decisions in

relation to children from the point of view of discrimination and equality (2016) -https://www.unicef.org/albania/2016-Access_to_Justice.pdf 

Social Integration and Re-integration Programme of children in contact or conflict with the law through norms, values and a law - abiding lifestyle

Children’s views on the Justice System Reform - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVw2wxVR_6s

With the voice of children deprived of their liberty. Monitoring Report of the conditions and treatment in the institutions of custody, pre-trial detention and prisons (2017) - http://observator.org.al/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Monitoring_report_jj_13March2017.pdf

Children’s Equitable Access to Justice: Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Albania, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Montenegro (2015) - https://www.unicef.org/eca/sites/unicef.org.eca/files/2017-10/Equitable_access_to_justice.pdf

Albanian One Minute Videos Jr. on Children’s Equitable Access to Justice (2015) - http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_X6BhIYRstbqK8o9IBDhDpC6FF3D4611

Justice for Children Resources: A link to Juvenile Justice International Standards; General resources on Juvenile Justice; General Resources on Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime

Tools for professionals: A link to tools for juvenile justice professionals developed in Albania