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Evaluation database

Evaluation report

2015 CEE/CIS: Multi-country evaluation of the impact of juvenile justice reforms on children in conflict with the law

Executive summary

With the aim to continuously improve transparency and use of evaluation, UNICEF Evaluation Office manages the "Global Evaluation Reports Oversight System". Within this system, an external independent company reviews and rates all evaluation reports. Please ensure that you check the quality of this evaluation report, whether it is “Outstanding, Best Practice”, “Highly Satisfactory”, “Mostly Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory” before using it. You will find the link to the quality rating below, labelled as ‘Part 2’ of the report.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires States to promote the establishment of laws, policies, procedures institutions and services specifically applicable to children who are alleged as, accused of or recognised as having infringed the criminal law.[1]  More specifically, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child requires that States parties establish a juvenile justice system, whose principal aim is to reintegrate children into their communities and society.[2]  The juvenile justice systems in countries and territories of CEE/CIS, which shared a common legal background until independence at the beginning of the 90s, focused on punishment rather than reintegration, and on prosecution and detention rather than on diversion from judicial proceedings and the various community-based alternative to custody that can best support the reintegration of young people in conflict with the law. None of the countries or territories in the CEE/CIS region have a juvenile justice system that fully meets the standard set by the CRC and other UN international standards and norms.

UNICEF country offices have gradually started working on juvenile justice in the CEE/CIS region in 2000, with most of them active in this area by 2006. In addition to specific country-based support to reforms, there have been two initiatives led by the UNICEF Regional Office. The first, the ‘critical mass’ exercise started in 2008, and aimed at encouraging a group of CEE/CIS states that had developed experience in juvenile justice to work with a common set of objectives and priorities, strengthen their approaches, and to document and share experience and lessons learnt for the benefit of other countries in the region. The second was a programme co-funded by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights’ (EIDHR) on Consolidation of Juvenile Justice System Reforms against Torture and Other Forms of Ill-treatment of Children in Former Soviet Countries,”  covering 8 countries.[3]


In 2012, UNICEF decided to commission an independent evaluation of its work on juvenile justice in the region as part of a series of thematic multi-country evaluations aimed at assessing and reinforcing the impact of UNICEF’s work on the most vulnerable children. The present evaluation was carried out in partnership with the European Commission (EC) and constitute the final evaluation of the above-mentioned regional programme co-funded by EIDHR and UNICEF.

This joint EC and UNICEF multi-country evaluation (MCE) assesses the extent to which juvenile justice system reforms in eleven countries and territories of the CEE/CIS region during the period 2006-2012 have contributed to (a) reducing deprivation of liberty for children in conflict with the law, (b) increasing the use of diversion from the judicial process and (c) reducing the average duration of pre-sentence detention. These three results are necessary in ensuring the child’s reintegration into the community – i.e. the ultimate objective of juvenile justice reforms as stated above. They also correspond to interventions where UNICEF has been particularly active in the region. The evaluation reviews UNICEF’s and the EIDHR support to system level changes and assesses the extent to which this support contributed to the three above-mentioned results.  The MCE was conducted in 11 selected countries and territories which had reported significant results in terms of reductions of children in detention (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Montenegro, Tajikistan and Ukraine), with two overarching goals:

  • Demonstrate how reduction of equity gaps and impact results were made possible through changes in the national/regional/local systems and document UNICEF’s contribution to such changes;
  • Identify key lessons in order to improve current and future action.


The countries and territories examined in this evaluation started from a relatively unspecialized juvenile justice system, and all have made some progress. In accordance with its mandate and role, UNICEF has been the major and most consistent stakeholder advocating juvenile justice reform, as well as the principal source of know-how and technical assistance.

To some extent, the positive trends identified by this evaluation reflect a longer term and broader humanisation of the justice system. Nevertheless, in several countries and territories, improvements in the juvenile justice indicators can be linked to specific reforms, and in many cases these can be linked to actions supported by UNICEF and the EU. A reduction in the rate and length of juvenile detention was closely related to changes in social norms and access to services such as the existence of trained juvenile justice practitioners, particularly judges, prosecutors and police, in a context of practitioner awareness of, and support for, juvenile justice reform. Increased rates of diversion were closely related to access to available and adequately staffed services. The development of diversion appeared to be particularly dependent upon the establishment of initial pilot diversion programmes and the existence of informed and trained juvenile justice practitioners, particularly social workers, police and prosecutors. Decreases in the length of pre-sentence detention was closely related to legislation/policy, to reforms in criminal procedure and case management and to the availability of community based services.  The evaluation showed that UNICEF has had a particularly high impact on reform through its policy and technical assistance work, facilitating national dialogue towards child friendly norms and in modelling and piloting.  The evaluation demonstrated that political support can be generated during the reform process using a combination of advocacy and policy advice, technical assistance for capacity development and promotion of conducive social norms. Therefore, while desirable, Government political support and active engagement for juvenile justice reform should in most cases not be seen as preconditions for UNICEF’s engagement in juvenile justice.

It can be concluded that UNICEF’s support to juvenile justice reforms was appropriate, has resulted in many positive changes, and has contributed towards progress in meeting international standards. In particular, the UNICEF/EIHDR juvenile justice regional programme had considerable impact and resulted in some very positive steps towards the implementation of a juvenile justice system. 

The lack of data and information management however meant it was not always possible to measure UNICEF’s impact on the reform. As mentioned, the failure to include racial and ethnic groups facing discrimination and the lack of initial baseline data on marginalised groups made it impossible to determine the extent to which the equity gap was reduced or closed in the countries and territories covered by this evaluation.


Cluster 1: Intensify efforts to reduce deprivation of liberty for children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Cluster 2: UNICEF’s prospective approach to Juvenile justice reform in CEE/CIS could be based on a revised and adapted Theory of Change

Cluster 3: The EU and UNICEF could consider reinforcing their cooperation on juvenile justice and children’s access to justice

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