Earlier this month, a UNICEF team visited the Juvenile Reformatory Directorate in Duhok, where children between the ages of 9 and 18 who are either charged with a crime and waiting for trial or convicted and sentenced are being held. The Directorate is also where a large number of teenagers from Ninewa perceived to have an affiliation with armed groups were detained. During the conflict with ISIS, close to 250 juveniles were detained there. Today, the number has dropped to 60, thanks to UNICEF’s support to the juveniles with their legal processes, appearances in court, and rehabilitation and reintegration after their release.
There are different felonies for which a child can be charged and detained, including theft, killing, terrorism-related offenses, and the illegal border crossing into Iraq. The period of imprisonment depends on the type of felony committed. Whenever possible, UNICEF works to ensure that juveniles are diverted from the formal justice system, given an alternative to detention or receive the shorted possible sentences so that they able to stay with their families and in school. Thanks to UNICEF’s advocacy, the perception of the children has evolved from thinking of them as common criminals who should be punished to seeing them as victims who need services and support. As a result, more and more children are being taken out of the formal justice system and given alternatives to detention, shorter sentences, and early release on probation.