Public hearing to accelerate the justice for children legislative reform
Skopje, 3 July 2023: The Parliament of North Macedonia and UNICEF hosted today a public hearing to discuss the justice for children systemic reform with a special focus on accelerating the process of parliamentary adoption of the laws pertinent to justice for children and ensuring adequate budget allocation for their implementation.
“Recently there has been much discussion in the community regarding how we can protect our children. It is important to base our discussions and debates on facts,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative. “The public hearing is an important forum for having a constructive and informed discussion on how we can work to advance child rights and ensure the best outcomes for all children. I welcome the commitment to a legislative reform, leading to a fair justice system, where children can realize their rights; a justice system based on a non-punitive and restorative approach and on child-friendly principles, that have the best interest of the child as the primary consideration.”
“While North Macedonia has advanced the rights of the child, we very much welcome and support the efforts to strengthen child protection, moving from a model of punishment to prevention and protection. In partnership with UNICEF, the European Union has provided knowledge and expertise concerning EU standards and norms for the draft Law on Justice for Children,” said David Geer, the European Union Ambassador to North Macedonia.
The new Justice for Children Law introduces changes to ensure that the best interest of the child is a guiding principle in all decisions that affect children in contact with the justice system. Thus, the new law is offering better protection of the rights and interests of children, regardless of the fact whether they are offenders, victims or witnesses of crime.
Other laws dealing with different aspects of justice for children, such as the Law on Criminal Procedure, the Law on Mediation, the Family Law, the Law on Execution of Sanctions and the Law on Social Protection, should be amended in parallel to ensure complementarity and their successful implementation in practice.
“The proposed provisions in this law are based on the European standards of the rights of the child and UNICEF recommendations for improving the justice for children system,” said Viktorija Avramovska Madic, Deputy Minister of Justice.” The relevant institutions have secured financial resources that will enable effective implementation of this law.”
UNICEF has been supporting the Government in the process of justice for children reform with extensive support of the European Union. As part of the action “Just(ice) children – EU for juvenile and child-friendly justice” funded by the EU and co-financed by UNICEF, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have led the system transformation including the legislative revisions.
Key changes in the new Justice for Children Law include:
The best interest of the child principle should be a primary consideration when making any decisions about the child. Considering that for each different case, there may be many factors to consider when deciding what is in the best interests of the child, all professionals guided by this principle will be making a decision according to what will most benefit the child’s general wellbeing.
The restorative justice approach as an overall guiding approach promotes peaceful conflict resolution within communities, families and schools focusing on establishing reconciliation between offenders and those affected by the offence.
The judge for children follows the case of the child from the issuance of the measure/sanction, until the review and end of the measure/sanction. Until now the judge for execution of sanctions monitored the execution of the sanction.
Children in conflict with the law should be informed on the initial length of their measure and the court may review the measure every 6 months to see if the situation has changed or the child should be early released.
The child victim gives a statement without unjustified delay after filing the criminal complaint, which is recorded in accordance with the provisions of the law and is used as evidence during the procedure.
Mediation as a restorative practice is strengthened with a mandatory attempt at mediation, i.e. the competent public prosecutor makes a proposal to the parties for a mediation procedure.
The proposed revisions are in line with the Concluding Observations of the Convention on the Rights Committee pointing out the need of designated specialized judges for children; ensuring that child victims and witnesses of all forms of violence are interviewed without delay by trained forensic interviewers in child-friendly facilities, and ensuring that child victims of all forms of violence have access to trauma focused therapy and other appropriate rehabilitation.
"The goal is to amend the existing legal framework, in order for the state to offer better protection of the rights and interests of all children, regardless of whether they are in conflict or in contact with the law," said the president of the parliamentary committee for political system and relations between communities Sonja Mirakovska.
During the public hearing, the participants engaged in discussion on other important aspects of the system transformation including on how to ensure adequate budget allocation for the implementation of the Law on Justice for Children based on the recommendations of the “Analysis of the adequacy, efficiency, effectiveness and equity of government budget allocations for justice for children” conducted with UNICEF technical support. _______________________________________________________________________
This year UNICEF is marking it’s 30-year anniversary in North Macedonia. In 1993, UNICEF was one of the first two UN agencies to open an office in the country after it became an independent state - initially providing emergency assistance to refugee children from Bosnia.
Since then, UNICEF has been working with Government and partners to advance the rights of every child.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.