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Training of Turkey’s justice professionals will end tragedies, says judge

by Bernard Kennedy

Izmir, TURKEY, 31 July 2013 - A sad sad story from years ago, and the troubled recollection of a judge, thrust UNICEF’s Justice for Children programme to the top of the national agenda one hot weekend in July.

‘Musa’s Legacy’ was the main front-page headline in the best-selling national daily Hurriyet, which has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of Internet viewers.

Every year tens of thousands of children in Turkey become victims or witnesses of crimes. - UNICEF Turkey / Guney Tepe / 2013 

Famous as he may be now, the hero of the story started - and ended - his life as one of those “invisible” children whose best interests need to come first, and whose rights cannot wait, but who slip through a fault in the fabric, despite everyone’s best intentions

It is four years since Musa hung himself, at the age of 15, after attending a ceremony marking the first anniversary of a school bus crash which he survived with minor injuries, but in which four other children, including his best friends, were killed.

He had planned to become a teacher, but he never went back to school after the crash.

“We stopped to pick you up and the brakes aren’t working now,” the bus driver had grumbled on the morning of the disaster, “Why couldn’t you walk another 100 meters to a level spot instead of waiting on the slope?”

Not paying attention

While the luckless shepherd boy from Aliaga in western Turkey struggled with his loss and the bus-driver’s weighty accusation, İzmir judge Murat Aydin was among those who convicted the driver for continuing to operate the bus, although he knew that the brakes were faulty.

We worked thoroughly on the prosecution,” he noted in the letter to the newspaper which was to inspire its Sunday headline. “We identified the crime and the criminal… We sentenced the driver to ten years grounds of ‘causing death through conscious negligence’ – a charge for which there were not many precedents. Our decision was approved by the Court of Appeals. I thought we did a good job.”

“However, Judge Aydin’s letter goes on, “We did not pay any attention to Musa.”

Despite his experience of child justice, the judge admits, it did not occur to him to call for psychological assistance for the young survivor. “I will never forget the most devastating experience of my professional life,” he adds, “I will always carry the responsibility for Musa on my shoulders.”

Focus on prevention

Judge Aydin was moved to air his feelings in public after using a cutting from Hurriyet about Musa’s suicide in a UNICEF-supported training course for judges, prosecutors and social workers.

The Ministry of Justice, Ministry for the Family and Social Policies, High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, Justice Academy and UNICEF are all cooperating to develop a training programme that will eventually be rolled out to all judges, prosecutors and social workers working in the juvenile justice system, sensitizing them to the needs of children in contact with the law, whether as suspects, victims or witnesses. This is part of a wider project to improve further the quality of justice for children in Turkey, supported by the European Union.

Judge Aydin says that he is proud to be part of the project team. “I know it will not bring Musa back, but I continue to take part in efforts to improve the juvenile justice system in order to prevent other children from coming to a similar end.”

Saving lives routinely

Convening different institutions and building capacity for child-friendly systems…  This is the kind of work which UNICEF does every day – and not least in middle-income countries with Child Protection systems that are still evolving. Much of what UNICEF staff do - the negotiation and management of projects, the identification of experts, the arrangement of training sessions – may seem routine. Only rarely does it make the front pages. But it can never be business-as-usual, because it is life-saving.




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