...The 2006 United Nations (UN) Study on Violence against Children highlighted the extent of violence against children involved with the justice system, and this topic has, in turn, become a priority for the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children (SRSG). Children are exposed to psychological, physical and sexual violence during arrest and interrogation, or while being held in police custody; they are likewise vulnerable to violence at the hands of staff and adult detainees in detention centres; and they also endure violence as a form of punishment or sentencing. This includes stoning, amputation, capital punishment and life sentencing.

Girls involved with the justice system are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse, in part because of their lower status in society and in part because they constitute a minority – albeit a growing minority - of prisoners in all countries.

The thematic report issued by the SRSG, in cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)31 on Prevention of and Responses to Violence against Children within the Juvenile Justice System identifies the risks and systemic factors contributing to violence against children within this system. According to the report, the majority of detained children are awaiting trial, and large proportions of these children are held for minor offences and are first-time offenders.

The thematic report sets out important recommendations and strategies to prevent and respond to violence against children within the juvenile justice system. Guided by international standards, including article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and with a view to maximising children’s protection from violence, the report urges States to develop and use effective alternative mechanisms to formal criminal proceedings that are child- and gender- sensitive. These alternatives include diversion, restorative justice processes, mediation, and community-based programmes, including treatment programmes for children with substance abuse problems.

The importance of restorative justice has become still greater in light of the growing social misperception that child-offending (often understood in the context of armed and gang violence) is on the rise and poses a threat to security in the community. The perceived threat of juvenile delinquency, often fuelled by inflammatory media reports and, at times, by political agendas, increases social pressure for the criminalization of children and adolescents and, hence, for the introduction of lower ages of criminal responsibility and longer periods of deprivation of liberty. As a result, child populations in detention have been growing exponentially.

With a view to reversing this worrying trend, significant efforts are under way in several regions to reiterate and strengthen children’s rights in the justice system. An important positive development in this respect is the movement to promote the use of restorative justice mechanisms. A number of countries already recognise the value of promoting restorative justice processes for children and are introducing legislation to this end.

 Download the full report.