Child rights are human rights – how a small village is protecting children

Child rights are human rights – how a small village is protecting children

UNICEF Laos
16 September 2019

Children have often been treated as adults in Laos when they committed offences. If a child was in contact with the law they would be arrested and charged with an offence.  Most of the time villages would impose a fine that their families would have to pay. This type of punishment was often not effective at resolving the situation and often caused trauma for children involved. Sometimes there were long lasting consequences for the children involved causing them to skip school, fall behind and miss out on opportunities for their development.

Mr. Nouphone is one of 41 of participants from Kaysone Phomvihane City who attended both trainings on legal and social assistance for children in contact with the law and the training on community-based diversion for children in conflict with law at the end of 2018. UNICEF with the support of the Government of Australia, has been providing technical and financial support to the People’s Supreme Prosecutor to conduct the trainings on legal and social assistance for children and support to the Ministry of Justice to conduct trainings on community-based diversion for children in conflict with the law for provincial and district government officials. The government officials also included village authorities and members of the village Mediation Units in from 19 villages in Xiengkhouang province and 10 villages from Savannakhet province.

“Now we know better ways to deal with conflict cases involving children,” said Mr. Nouphone Kettavong with confidence. The 60-year old the head of the Village Front construction of Nonsavad village, Kaysone Phomvihane City, Savannakhet province presented progress made in his village at a meeting with officials from the People’s Supreme Prosecutor and the Ministry of Justice during a joint monitoring meeting held in June 2019 in Savannakhet province.

The Secretariat for the JJCC and the Ministry of Justice has been working with UNICEF since 2017 to pilot community-based diversion options for children in conflict with the law as alternatives to deprivation of liberty and the legal and social assistance to children in contact with the law.   In 2018, these projects were scaled up in 10 villages to Xiengkhouang and 10 villages in Savannakhet provinces.

The goal of these trainings is to provide tools for local officials and community members, especially the village authorities, to promote and protect children’s rights. The government and UNICEF are particularly focusing on children’s rights to protection which includes legal and social protection and assistance.

“Now, people in my village have knowledge about children’s rights and laws related to children” said Mr. Nouphone. “After receiving the training, we disseminated the information on the rights of children and related laws through the public speaker two to three times per week from 6 to 7 am or 5 to 6 pm and shared this information when we had village events or meetings at the temple.” he added.  The villagers were very supportive and said that they are happy that their village can be part of the project.

Mr. Nouphone Kettavong - the 60-year-old head of the Village Front construction of Nonsavad village, Kaysone Phomvihane City, Savannakhet province
Mr. Nouphone Kettavong - the 60-year-old head of the Village Front construction of Nonsavad village, Kaysone Phomvihane City, Savannakhet province

The trainings that have been provided to the village have proven to assist in helping children when they encounter problems. Mr. Nouphone shared a story about an offence that occurred during the Pi Mai (Lao New Year) cerebration in April 2019 where a group of six boys aged between 10 and 13 years old, were throwing sand and stone mixed with water on people passing by. A stone hit a passerby in the eye and he temporarily lost his eye sight and reported the incident to the village authorities.

“But this time”, said Mr. Nouphone we did things a little differently and held a meeting with both parties and some villagers to discuss how we can handle this situation to protect both the victim and the young offenders who also need to be protected as they are still children.”  The meeting consisted of collecting facts and conducting the mediation session for both parties with the patriation of the six boys, their parents and the victim. Mr. Nouphone used techniques he learned in the training to talk to the children in a polite and friendly way addressing them as “son” or “nephew” as this is common in Lao culture. He calmly explained that what they had done had caused harm and damage to other people and is not correct behavior.

The new techniques taught on community-based diversion also emphasizes encouraging children to talk about how they felt about their actions and asking their parents and the victim how they felt about the situation and what they proposed as a solution. Mr. Nouphone explained further, “The victim said to us (as mediators) and to children that, he does not want children to be arrested as this will have a negative impact on their future opportunities especially their education. He understands that they are just children and he learnt about children’s rights and the restorative/administrative resolution instead of using the justice system from the public broadcasts. Therefore, he forgives them, but they need to think about their actions and to promise that they will not do it again. The techniques used in the community-based diversion training were applied effectively and allowed both parties to reach an agreement that the parents would pay for the victim’s medical treatment and the children should apologize and accept responsibility for their actions ensuring they would not engage in this type of behavior again.

Mr. Nouphone said with a big smile “This is a big change in my village. Before, people would ask the village police to arrest and detain children to punish them, so they can be taught a lesson. Now people are open for a more positive resolution instead of punishing children. I am really proud of what we are able to do now and really glad that what we learned from the trainings have been helpful to the villagers.”