Justice for children
UNICEF promotes a restorative approach to juvenile justice to keep children out of the criminal justice system and develop a juvenile probation service.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Tajikistan is 16 for most offences and 14 for certain grave offences, in line with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment 10 on Children’s Rights in Juvenile Justice.
Children who come into conflict with the law are often seen as less ‘deserving’ than others, with their individual circumstances rarely taken into account. Most children under arrest in Tajikistan have been accused of petty or non-violent offences, and some are placed in ‘protective custody’ even though depriving children of their liberty should always be the very last resort.
According to official statistics, in 2018 there were 906 offences and crimes committed by children, a noticeable increase from 690 in 2017 (664 boys / 26 girls) and 565 in 2016. The number of child victims reached 1,039 in 2017, which is also much higher than the number of 795 recorded in 2016. It is estimated that the number of children who commit minor administrative offences who are not systematically captured in the official statistics is much larger than the figures mentioned above.
An assessment carried in 2014 revealed that only 37 per cent of boys detained in closed facilities were offered legal assistance while in police detention. The number of children referred to the Juvenile Support Service (JSS), a community-based diversion programme for child offenders who have committed minor offences, remains small. In 2018, only 106 children were diverted to the JSS.
Across the country, only five districts provide rehabilitation services through the JSS to children who have been diverted from the criminal justice system by district-level Commissions on Child Rights. The Ministry of Justice runs the only detention centre in Dushanbe, called a ‘colony’, for boys aged 14 years and above who have been sentenced by courts. Girls who are sentenced are sent to the women’s ‘colony’ in Nurak.
Children occasionally face pre-trial detention for minor offences; they also often face extended deprivation of liberty for minor offences. Although data is available on children in contact with the justice system, it is not disaggregated or analysed, and lacks information on the number of child victims and witnesses of crimes.
Child-friendly proceedings are not exercised in the country, and child-friendly quality legal aid is not provided.
UNICEF Tajikistan is supporting efforts to establish a justice system that is child-friendly and guarantees that the rights of children in contact with the law in Tajikistan are respected. This means that child offenders, victims and witnesses of crime should be protected at all stages of judicial procedures.
Over the years, UNICEF has supported the Government to improve its justice system for children. In particular, it has focused its assistance on strengthening the capacity of law enforcement and justice professionals, as well as child protection workers. This is in light of the weak capacity among various categories of professionals compounded by frequent staff turnover, which negatively affects the process of justice reform.
Currently, with UNICEF support, the Training Centre for Judges under the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Training Institute for Prosecutors under the General Prosecutor’s Office are updating or planning to update their pre-service and in-service training curricula, and are renewing their pools of master trainers to train new judges, police officers and prosecutors.
In addition, UNICEF is collaborating with the National Union of Lawyers to develop and incorporate a course on ‘Child-Friendly Legal Aid for Children in Contact with the Law’ into the general curriculum of its Centre for Advanced Training for Lawyers. Over time, it is expected that all 800 defence lawyers in Tajikistan will receive training. This new initiative complements the Government’s pilot Concept of Free Legal Aid that is currently being implemented.
In an effort to promote diversion, UNICEF supported the Government to establish community-based Juvenile Support Services (JSS) within Centres for Additional Education (CAE), to provide children who commit minor (usually administrative) offences with social rehabilitation and reintegration and to prevent re-offending. In 2017 and 2018, 143 and 106 children respectively were referred to CAEs in five districts of Sughd oblast. Because of high staff turnover and the staff’s non-child-protection-related educational background, the staff require continuous training and on-the-job mentoring.
UNICEF’s advocacy efforts are aimed at the comprehensive revision of legislation related to children to fully align it with provisions set by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Government has adopted a Plan of Action based on the Committee’s recommendations for 2018-2022 and UNICEF remains committed to supporting the Government to fully implement this Plan of Action.