Real lives

Real lives

Enhancing Inter-ethnic Dialogue and Communication

Students and teachers develop gender awareness in a Child-Friendly School


Working together to support children at risk and children in conflict with the law

Ismail Mersimoski showing the Emir case which was sent directly from the police to the court skipping the Center for Social Work.

In the western city of Debar the police arrested 15 year old Emir for possession of drugs and diligently referred the case to the juvenile court in the neighbouring city of Gostivar.  Four months later, the Centre for Social Work in Debar received a formal letter from the same court requesting an urgent psychological assessment of the child and an evaluation of his family and education history.
“The police should have approached the Centre for Social Work first. This was Emir’s first offence….in fact, we neglected this child during the four months…” tells Ismail Mersimoski - a Social Worker from the Centre for Social Work in Debar – to illustrate how the system responded to juvenile justice cases in the past

Ismail Mersimoski has dedicated his entire working career to children at risk.  With only four employees – two professional social workers, one psychologist and one pedagogue – his small department is responsible for supporting a variety of cases, ranging from domestic violence, trafficking, children without parental care, to children at risk and in conflict with the law.   The Centre for Social Work in Debar provides services for a total population of 25,400 spread across Debar, the municipality  of Centar Zupa and 39 mountainous villages.  In the absence of local juvenile court all local justice cases are transferred to the court in Gostivar.

“The main issue in the past was a lack of coordination in our own backyard. I must admit that at that time our department, the police, the court, the schools and the local government used to work in parallel silos when dealing with a child at risk or in conflict the law,” continues Ismail. 

Law and policy is not the only answer to achieving justice for children - the strength and ability of the system and those who work in it, is the key to effective implementation

One of the challenges after adopting the Juvenile Justice Law in 2009, was the fact that professionals lacked the means and resources, and often awareness and knowledge, to fully implement the new legal requirements.  While the legislative code emphasized restorative justice over punishment, two years ago the administration of the child justice system was not fully consistent with the requirements laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For this reason, the EU funded (€700,000) and UNICEF co-funded (€100,000) and implemented Justice for Children project incorporated a capacity building component as one of its three pillars supporting justice for children reform. Through capacity building efforts that brought together key actors from different agencies and organisations, the Justice for Children project set out to improve the coordination among all involved in the justice for children process and to ensure the restorative approach is put in practice so children like Emir are given a chance to correct their wrong and given support to regain a constructive role in society.

The small team dealing with children at risk discuss daily tasks at a morning meeting in the Center for Social Work in Debar.  On the left poster with messages for children in conflict with the law developped  and widely disseminated as part of EU funded and UNICEF co-funded and implemented Justice for Children project.

UNICEF engaged leading international justice experts to design and carry out an integrated training programme to promote inter-agency cooperation based on the principles of justice for children.  A total of 116 professionals including police, judges, prosecutors and the National Council on Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, mediators and civil society stakeholders completed the training of trainers.

The inter-agency workshops focused on five main areas of justice for children: children at risk; diversion and restorative justice; children as victims and witnesses; trial and sentencing; and how to put justice for children in practice.

“In a mixed team, together with public prosecutors, judges, civil society leaders and mediators, I had a unique opportunity to learn the main principles of restorative justice from all perspectives;  understand other agencies’  challenges, and together with all participants examine solutions that would improve our work for children at risk and in conflict with the law,” says Ismail.

These gatherings were also an opportunity to involve future trainers on justice for children, to be part of the design phase of a comprehensive training programme that has started to roll out to a wider audience. Ismail being one of trainers.

He joined the group of 13 experts from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Skopje Police Station, Centres for Social Work, Chambers of Mediators, Macedonian Bar Association and NGO representatives at the training of trainers workshop. This training – guided by participants’ needs and concrete experiences - enabled Ismail and the group to further design and conduct workshops for other practitioners.

After completing the series of training workshops, when Ismail returned home he organized a meeting with the local police department to share knowledge and suggest ways to improve their collaboration and work practices.

“We discussed ways to ensure the best interest of the child is respected in the process; how to avoid mistakes when arresting children, and how to facilitate inter-agency work between police and social workers,” he said and continued “I am aware this is a process and the results won’t be visible overnight. But since last year’s workshops police counterparts - with no exception - now involve the Centre for Social Work when dealing with children and both - police and Center for Social Work colleagues - now understand the principals of restorative justice and how each institution contributes to ensure they are put in practice.  This is a big step already.”

Maintaining good inter-agency coordination, respecting the main principles of justice for children in day-to-day realities remains indeed in the hands of all practitioners.    With the knowledge and skills that Ismail Mersimoski and other practitioners have gained from the integrated capacity building programme, children like Emir are on a better path to receiving the support they have a right to have, for a second chance in life.




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