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EU and UNICEF: Fewer children behind bars, greater reforms needed

BRUSSELS/KYIV, 27 June 2013 — Children in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia have seen steady and positive reforms in children’s rights but still face huge barriers in accessing justice, according to a new European Union-UNICEF report launched today at a conference on justice for children in Brussels.

The report, Juvenile Justice in the CEE/CIS (Central and Eastern Europe/ Commonwealth of Independent States) region: Progress, Challenges, Obstacles and Opportunities, notes that across the region, fewer children are being put into prison. It also points to ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, in all surveyed countries. Solitary confinement is still allowed in nearly all of them.

The EU and UNICEF welcomed moves by governments in the region, including in countries due to join the EU, to widen the scope of reforms towards systematically protecting the rights of all children in the justice process. Broader reforms will include ending the culture of impunity by authorities and giving access to justice for all children who are victims or witnesses to crimes. 

Legislation in many of these countries is moving closer to international standards. Importantly, changes in legislation on sentencing and other reforms have also led to a substantial decline in the number of children languishing behind bars.

Despite some progress, there is still scope for considerable improvement when it comes to children’s rights. There is a need to overcome the institutionalisation of children and to promote less technical term in support of families. And our concerns don’t just end there. It is essential that countries in our neighbourhood not only adhere to international human rights standards, but they must also ensure the effective implementation of recently-adopted criminal justice legislation, which in some countries is very progressive” European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said in his opening speech at the conference.

The more children in conflict with the law are shut out of society, the harder it is for them to heal,” said Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Progress has been made but justice is often blind to children’s needs. Justice systems must adjust to meet the rights of all children.

In Ukraine this research undoubtedly shows, children become victims of physical violence; they are illegally detained at police stations and are forced to confess crimes; they are left without legal support. UNICEF calls on Ukraine to put into place the necessary safeguards to ensure all children who come into contact with the law are treated in a manner that promotes their sense of dignity and worth and promotes children becoming active citizens in the future,” stressed UNICEF Representative in Ukraine Yukie Mokuo participating in the conference.

The high-level conference brought together some 120 justice ministers, ombudspersons and participants from civil society, international organisations and the European Commission. The gathering held debates on the issues highlighted in the report – which was based on a three-year project funded by the EU using interviews with children, in addition to official complaints and assessments. The countries covered in the research were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Ukraine.

The reforms strengthen legislation and capacity building measures such as analysis and review of juvenile justice secondary laws, establishment of juvenile justice working groups to develop action plans, training of trainers and introduction of diversion, probation and mediation pilots.  Research on torture and ill-treatment – child-reported beatings, rape and humiliation while in detention - was also conducted by UNICEF, ombudspersons and civil society to ensure the commitment of authorities to combat these practices.

The conference ends on Friday, with governments highlighting policy priorities for the road ahead.

Link to the report “Juvenile Justice in the CEE/CIS region: Progress, Challenges, Obstacles and Opportunities” .

For more information, please contact:

Peter Stano, Spokesperson of Commissioner Füle, European Commission, +32 2 295 7484,

Lely Djuhari, UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States,, +41 792044482

About UNICEF: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the world leader in protection of children’s rights and interests. The Fund works in more than 190 countries for protection and support of children from early childhood through adolescence. Programs of UNICEF are entirely financed by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. Office of the Fund was opened in Ukraine in 1997. For more information visit Join us on Twitter, Facebook and ВКонтакте.



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