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UNICEF and the Fiji Judiciary partner to protect children in contact with the law

© UNICEF Pacific/2018/Walker
Chief Justice Anthony Gates and UNICEF Pacific representative Mr Sheldon Yett at the Justice for Children Workshop

41 judges and magistrates from across Fiji commit to ensure protection of children’s rights in the justice system

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SUVA, 6 February 2018 – A three day training on justice for children is currently underway with 41 judges and magistrates from throughout Fiji. The training, with technical support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), focuses on the treatment of children in the justice system, whether they are victims or witnesses of crimes, have allegedly broken the law, or are involved in civil matters such as out of family placement and adoption.

“We must understand the ordeal a child faces when coming to court, whether it is to give evidence and to be cross-examined, or to endure the process of being placed with one or the other parent. The courts need to act with increasing sensitivity and with sufficient information such as in full and careful reports from Social Welfare. Training is the key to awareness, to new ideas, and to the right judicial skills,” said Chief Justice, Anthony Gates, while opening the workshop.

In Fiji, while the number of children in conflict with the law has remained stable over the last few years, the number of child victims of abuse reported to authorities is increasing. This increase in reported cases of abuse is likely the result of communication campaigns that have made people more aware of the consequences of child abuse and the available support services.

“Going through the judicial system can further traumatise an already vulnerable child if child-sensitive procedures are not in place,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Mr Sheldon Yett.

He added, “Court procedures must give consideration to a child’s right to protection, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international guidelines and standards.”

Court procedures need to take into account children’s stages of psychological development, which is why professionals need special skills to interview children. Other measures include ensuring that child victims of abuse are not confronted with their perpetrator and are not requested to repeat their stories several times.

For children committing minor offences, alternatives to detention such as community work or educational programmes should be the preferred option. Detention should be the last resort for more serious offences and in this case children should be detained separately from adults and for as short a period as possible.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has made clear that child victims, child witnesses and child offenders all need to be represented by qualified lawyers and supported by qualified social workers or psychologists throughout the court process, and have access to recovery and reintegration services.

In order to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect and exploitation of children, UNICEF promotes the strengthening of all components of the child protection system, which needs to involve all sectors, including health and education. The judiciary is one of the key pillars of any child protection system, along with social welfare services and police. Building the capacity of professionals working with children in all these sectors is one of the ways to improve the quality of child protection prevention and response services.

The training is being conducted with financial support from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit http://www.unicefpacific.org

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For more information, please contact:

Cate Heinrich, UNICEF Pacific, + 679 9925 606, cheinrich@unicef.org 

 

 
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