In early December PRI attended the 6th International Conference of the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, Making deprivation of children’s liberty a last resort – towards evidence-based policies on alternatives.
The Conference, held over 2 days on 3–4 December, provided a very timely opportunity on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to discuss what has been done and more crucially what more needs to be done in the years ahead to uphold provisions laid out in the CRC and its related guidelines to protect children and ensure better provision of justice for those in conflict and in contact with the law.
A number of sessions stressed the fact that while Article 37 of the CRC clearly states that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”; the sad fact remains that this Article is being constantly violated around the world 25 years after the adoption of the CRC.
In this context speakers highlighted several new recent global initiatives to address the issue (of overuse of imprisonment and detention of children). Among the most important are the “Joint report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children” adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in June 2012, and the Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2013 on “Model strategies and practical measures on the elimination of violence against children in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice”.
PRI played an important role in the discussions leading to the adoption of these two documents and many of our inputs are reflected in key recommendations contained in the documents. These include more emphasis on prevention; a higher age of criminal responsibility; greater use of restorative justice based practices including diversion measures; better monitoring of places of detention; and increased provision of educational and related inputs aiming to rehabilitate children.
A major challenge confronting those seeking to ensure full implementation of Article 37 is the lack of reliable data relating to the incarceration of children around the world. The Conference therefore acknowledged the importance of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Resolution (December 2014) sponsored by Defence for Children International together with a large number of civil society organisations including PRI, calling on the United Nations Secretary General to conduct a global study on the issue of children deprived of their liberty. This study will generate important data for understanding exactly the scale of deprivation of liberty as currently reliable data on imprisonment/detention of children is simply not available.
The Conference covered a range of topics including a focus on restorative justice practices, multi-agency approaches to improve juvenile justice systems, and measuring the impact of evidence based policies on reducing recidivism. Speaking during a summing-up session towards the end of the Conference, PRI’s Programme Development Director suggested five related issues which need further discussion in the years ahead:
- More understanding of global restorative justice systems and practices, particularly its role in traditional and informal settings. In this context the initiative of the SRSG on VAC, set out in “Promoting Restorative Justice for Children, New York 2013”, should be built upon.
- Increasing the evidence base needed to tackle the challenge of dealing with children who commit serious offences. Discussion on diversion measures too often focus only on minor and non-serious offending; however much more attention is needed to understand and respond to cases where rape, murder and terrorist related offences involving children are concerned. Not just sentencing practices (no life imprisonment for children, for example) but also implementation of rehabilitation-focused treatment needs to be addressed.
- Appropriate disciplinary measures for children in detention is another issue requiring more discussion – the use of measures such as solitary confinement clearly need to be banned but more research is needed regarding what constitutes appropriate disciplinary measures.
- 25 years on from the CRC it is important we look again at the issue of age and ask a simple question: what really is the difference between someone who is 17 years and 364 days old and someone who is 18 years and 5 days? The CRC set the cut off point for the age of childhood at 18 but in the last 25 years we have gathered enough evidence to suggest we need to seriously engage with young people in the age group 18–21 (and even a bit older) in similar ways as we do with children (those under 18).
- Finally we need to get better at involving children – we need to promote this in our projects and the work we do. Mentoring and peer group initiatives often generate better results than simply having adults providing expert advice.
At the same time, PRI was also the proud recipient of the Juvenile Justice without Borders International Award at a ceremony held in the Brussels Town Hall on the evening of 3 December 2014. The citation for PRI’s Award stated it was a reward for the work done by the organisation over 25 years for the development of a child-friendly justice, which uses detention only as a last resort and recognises the right of children to special protection.
The Award, established by the IJJO, aims to recognise the work of experts, personalities and institutions that show a firm commitment for the protection of the rights of children at risk of social exclusion, especially those girls and boys involved in the cycles of violence, conflict and crime.
Besides PRI, winners at the 3rd edition of the Award included the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Robert Badinter, David Farrington, the Indian Coalition represented by Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, Justice Muhammad Imman Ali, and the Programa Escolhas (the Choices Programme) of Portugal.
Accepting the Award, PRI Executive Director Alison Hannah said, “we are very appreciative of the recognition the Award gives us for our work to improve the lives of children in conflict and in contact with the law. We are very honoured to receive this Award from the IJJO, whose work is unique in this field and for whom we have enormous respect”.