Regional conference on children’s access to justice

Over the last twenty years, the number of children placed in detention facilities in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia annually has gone down from 45,000 to 5,000 marking a 90 per cent reduction, said UNICEF today, ahead of the Children’s Access to Justice in Europe and Central Asia Regional Conference.

The main reasons for the reduction include governments’  increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be aligned with international standards, expanding options for non-custodial sentencing, and implementing programmes which provide structured second chances and community-based support.

UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, Philippe Cori, speaking ahead of the Children’s Access to Justice in Europe and Central Asia Regional Conference being held in Sarajevo, said that it was important to acknowledge and learn from the significant progress that has been made in countries across the Region to decrease the number of children in detention.  “But we must continue working to ensure this progress includes refugee and migrant children,” he said, “by ending the practice of detaining children based on their migration status and ensuring the protection of every child in the Region, no matter where he or she is from. ”

The Children’s Access to Justice Conference, 25-27 February, brings together 180 government officials and child protection experts from 21 countries.  The aim is to reflect on the progress made, lessons learned and best practices, with a specific focus on protecting child victims and witnesses of crime and equitable access to justice for the most vulnerable, including children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children and those living in poverty.

Young people will participate in the Conference by sharing their personal experiences with justice systems and what they think decision makers can do to better protect children’s rights. At the end of the Conference, participants will be expected to commit to concrete actions to enable equitable access to justice by all children.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister of Justice, Dr. Josip Grubesa, said that the country is pleased to host this important event.  “Child protection systems have been strengthened, by adopting legislation that protects children during criminal proceedings. Bosnia and Herzegovina has also taken important steps to ensure justice reforms are child focused and include specialized protection for child victims and witnesses,” he said.

The children’s access to justice programme relies on a long-term partnership between the European Union and UNICEF, with sustained support from the Governments of Sweden, Switzerland and Norway.

Mr. Torgny Svenungsson, Counselor and Director of Department for Development at the Embassy of Sweden, reaffirmed the support toward a comprehensive Child Protection programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “The groundwork of the programme aims at improving children’s access to justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Many important results have been achieved, including introduction of new alternative measures for children in conflict with the law such as police warnings.  Institutional coordination and cooperation have also been increased,” he said.

Switzerland’s Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, H.E. Andrea Rauber Saxer, said, “It is notable that children in contact with the law are now better served and protected by justice systems. However, important work remains to be done in order to make the system fully sustainable, notably by allocating adequate resources. Hence, I would call upon Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities at all levels to keep up the momentum reached and to take full ownership over justice for children system.”

Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina Ambassador Johann Sattler stressed that protection and promotion of the rights of the child is one of our shared obligations. “As recommended in the EC Opinion, Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to urgently develop and adopt a new Bosnia and Herzegovina Action Plan on child protection including measures on children without parental care, children with disabilities and juvenal justice across the country. A child’s dignity and child development should be our core guide in ensuring the effective and fair response when their rights have been violated”, Ambassador Sattler concluded.