Justice for children
A justice system that is fully harmonised with the principle of the best interest of the child is essential for all children, particularly for children from vulnerable and dysfunctional families.
More than 3,000 children in Serbia come in contact with the justice system each year in different ways: as offenders, victims or witnesses of crimes; for family matters such as divorce, custody or adoption in civil proceedings; or in administrative proceedings in relation to nationality, immigration and different reasons connected to their rights in the areas of health, education or social protection.
With our partners, UNICEF works on promotion of effective and equitable access to justice for children in contact with the law. Our focus is on creation of a child-friendly justice system that works in the best interests of the child, where children are protected and participate meaningfully in the processes where decisions about them are made.
Programme Area Goals
To ensure that the justice system is child-friendly, acts in the best interests of the child, is adapted to children’s needs and interests, and more responsive to children’s participation, our specific goals are:
- The increased application of diversionary measures and targeted interventions focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration of child offenders.
- To apply early rehabilitation for children younger than 14 with behavioural problems who are not criminally responsible, including those with mental health concerns.
- To secure protection of child victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings.
- To secure that children’s views are taken into account in civil proceedings.
- To enable that the most vulnerable children have access to justice when their rights are violated.
Our goal is that by 2025 there is:
- An increase in the number of local service providers for application of diversionary measures (protocols of cooperation signed between centres for social work and relevant actors in the local community) – from 58 to 150.
- An increase in the number of professionals who are certified and dealing with protection of children’s rights in civil proceedings – from 0 to 700 judges and social work professionals.
- A 100 per cent increase of higher courts’ victim support services with specialized capacities for child victim protection.
Interaction with the justice system is often an intimidating experience for many children. Children whose rights are violated do not access justice for different reasons, such as lack of legal capacity as they are not recognized as rights-holders but rather as passive objects of care. They lack specialized legal assistance, information about their rights and on how to obtain assistance and support. They often face insensitive procedures that are not adjusted to children and face discrimination, societal disapproval and lack of privacy.
Child offenders still lack specialized early rehabilitation programmes and interventions, in particular when they have complex behavioural, mental health and addiction problems. Diversionary measures are still applied only in a very small number of cases. One concerning trend is the growing number of children under the age of criminal responsibility (14 years) with behavioural problems in conflict with the law. Children are often stigmatized in the community and not recognized as victims in need of support.
Children victims/witnesses of crime do not get adequate protection and professional support before, during and after criminal proceedings. They are exposed to multiple interrogations and lengthy proceedings, leaving them with long-term trauma and severe impact on their lives.
When involved in civil proceedings, the principles of participation and the best interest of the child are not always the primary consideration in decision-making.
- Advocacy for improved coordination of institutions and stakeholders working in justice for children, to ensure continuous improvement and sustainability of child-friendly justice system reforms.
- Capacity building of legal and social welfare professionals to work in interdisciplinary teams, to communicate with children in a child-friendly way and make decisions aware of children’s specific needs, as well as about the special needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
- Technical support so that children are provided with information about their rights in the procedures, where to obtain support, how to express their views and how these views will be taken into account in decision-making.
- Advocacy and capacity building for provision of protection measures to children in contact with the justice system so that the proceedings allow children to fully participate at all stages, with specific accommodation for children with disabilities.
- Capacity building for provision of free legal aid that is child-friendly and responsive to the specific legal and social needs of children, provided by lawyers specialized in children’s rights.
- Strengthening data collection and management to ensure that data are properly managed, analysed and used for evidence-based policy-making and system reforms benefiting children.