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Innovations, lessons learned and good practices

Papua New Guinea: A rights based Juvenile Justice System (Lessons Learned)

Year: 2007
Major Area : Child Protection
Language: English


The resolution of conflict in traditional Papua New Guinea (PNG) societies has long relied on principles of mediation, restorative justice and reciprocity. Much of the contemporary law and justice sector development has sought to improve on the formal justice mechanisms introduced prior to independence. These mechanisms are largely focused on processing offenders, often limiting the capacity of victims and communities to play an active role in the decision-making or eventual outcome. The complete absence of a specialised juvenile justice system provided the opportunity to contribute to a more locally relevant and effective system for dealing with juvenile crime. The reforms have been based on a vision to build a specialised juvenile justice system that is based on restorative justice, Melanesian tradition and contemporary juvenile justice practices.

Lessons learned

This strategy demonstrates that tradition and custom can be successfully synergized with formal government institutions, and that when these positive traditions are used as strengths, there is greater buy-in, stronger commitment and an increased likelihood of cost-effective, sustainable change.


Police violence is commonly experienced by children throughout the country, with recent estimates suggest that around 75 percent of children who come into conflict with the law experience some form of police violence. Most children are detained in poor conditions, often with adults, and rarely with adequate access to legal or medical support, or independent and transparent oversight of their treatment. Remand is overused by police and magistrates and children charged with minor offences rarely have access to diversionary alternatives to arrest and detention. Furthermore, statistics related to girls are rarely available.


The contemporary frameworks now include a National Juvenile Justice Policy, a Juvenile Court Protocol for Magistrates, a National Police Juvenile Policy and Protocols and Minimum Standards for Juvenile Institutions. Current data suggest that in 2007 there was a 62% reduction in the use of Correctional Services facilities for holding children on remand and a 27% reduction in their use for detention, both of which exceed the largely static trends in the use of remand and detention for adults (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Number of children detained in CIS facilities

This is being facilitated by the 13 provincial Juvenile Justice Working Groups (JJWGs), 12 Juvenile Courts and 4 police juvenile reception centres that have already been established across the 20 provinces in the country (see figure 2).

Figure 2. Summary of Juvenile Justice Systems (20 provinces)
System in place Provinces
No. %
Jvenile Justice Working Group 13 65
Juvenile Court 12 60
Reception Centres  4 20
Provincial Police Trainers trained 19 95

The processing of offenders through the formal justice system has previously allowed agencies to work largely in isolation, as each agency has clearly defined and independent responsibilities. Some diversionary alternatives, such as mediation, require multiple stakeholders to work collaboratively to share resources and responsibilities. UNICEF recognised the importance of building the capacity of government to adopt an interagency response at the outset, and significant technical and financial inputs were invested in fostering partnerships and interagency ownership of the reforms through the establishment of the Juvenile Justice Working Group. This model is now replicated in each province before the reforms are introduced. Implementation has been more successful in provinces where the interagency model has been actively adopted and this appears to be largely reliant on strong leadership from the provincial government.

Next steps

With a rights based legislative and policy framework in place, the national government and other partners are now making additional budgetary allocations to enable the scaling up of the juvenile justice system. As greater responsibility for implementation and accountability transfers to provincial partners, who lack the depth of technical expertise of their national counterparts and less access to resources, UNICEF technical support is now focusing on supporting these sub-national partners to honour the child-focused intent of the system. This includes supporting improved data collection, with greater attention to girls and other less visible populations of children who are at risk of rights violations when they come into conflict with the law. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting greater cooperation and collaboration between national and sub-national partners, the inclusion of juvenile justice priorities in provincial planning and budgeting and building the capacity of communities to demand greater accountability from their law and justice agencies.



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