Children in the justice system need protection

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Millions of children all over the world suffer from violence. Studies reveal that children in the juvenile justice system, and in particular those deprived of their liberty, are especially vulnerable to violence. UNICEF estimates that over one million children are currently deprived of their liberty across the globe.

Experts met in Vienna to formulate and accelerate the adoption of effective measures to prevent and protect children within the juvenile justice system from all forms of violence. At the forum, experts shared good practices and reviewed a concept paper with recommendations on strategies and measures to prevent and respond to violence against children within the juvenile justice system.

"On any given day, children in conflict with the law encounter violence, including from police and security forces, from adult detainees, from staff at detention centres and from their own peers, while some even attempt suicide. These are the invisible children; our role is to bring their misery into plain sight," said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov.

The vast majority of boys and girls in detention are charged with petty crimes, and are first time offenders. Many have committed no crime at all, but have been rounded up for vagrancy, homelessness or simply for being in need of care and protection.

Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, said, "Juvenile justice is a core dimension of the rights of the child and a pivotal area where States' commitment to children's rights can be best expressed. We have a unique opportunity to promote a paradigm shift and help the criminal justice system evolve from an adult universe where children and adolescents hardly belong and where violence remains at high risk; into an environment where children are seen as rights holders and are protected from all forms of violence at all times."

Mr. Fedotov said UNODC has the mandate to support Member States in preventing crime and violence, and strengthening their justice systems. "Within this mandate," he added, "a key priority for us is to support Member States in ensuring that children are better served and protected by justice systems. The issue of violence against children in juvenile justice systems is therefore a priority area for UNODC."

The Executive Director added: "Our challenge is to create fair, effective and efficient juvenile justice systems that comply with international standards and norms. By relying on international standards we can create a powerful source of protection for children."

UNODC activities to promote juvenile justice including the rights of children in the justice system are founded on the Convention for the Rights of the Child, international standards and norms, and the recommendations of the Secretary General's Study on Violence Against Children.

The expert group meeting, held 23-24 January, was jointly organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children and UNODC with the support of the Government of Austria; and the participation of UNICEF as well as other international organizations.