Part 2 of the Cross-Cutting Issues' sector of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit, produced by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime in close co-operaiton with the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat.
Systems for dealing differently with children in trouble with the law have existed for more than a century, commencing with the establishment of separate institutions for delinquent and ‘at risk’ children, and followed shortly thereafter by legislative provisions to establish separate courts for children. Although different models prevailed from early on, a dominant approach was to focus upon child welfare, that is the best interest of the child. This approach is premised on the idea of interventions in the best interests of children, focusing on their needs rather than their deeds, and based on the involvement of social workers assisting the court in a professional capacity. Frequently, such systems of child justice are surrounded by a variety of therapeutic and education institutions for the rehabilitation and reintegration of child offenders, or those deemed to be at risk. Other juvenile justice systems that can be characterised as distinctive are based on a court system that more closely resembles the adult criminal justice system, or on administrative panels or other informal adjudicative processes.1 Finally, in some countries, no – or very little – special provision is made for children in conflict with the law. A vast disparity in forms and types of courts, services and institutions that make up juvenile justice systems therefore abounds, and this assessor tool is intended to be used in relation to all of these.
The key players and stakeholders concerned with a juvenile justice may include the usual role players in the criminal justice system generally – police, prosecution and courts, but may, in addition, involve a range of other functionaries and service providers. Examples include social workers and probation officers, local government authorities, child and youth care workers at care and rehabilitation institutions, prison officials, service providers who provide alternative programmes to prosecution for children in conflict with the law (diversion service providers), community workers, and indeed insofar as restorative justice processes and lay panels are concerned, ordinary citizens may be drawn into criminal justice processes where children are accused of an offence.
The central context relative to children in conflict with the law relates to the fact that due to their age and immaturity, children warrant separate and different treatment from their adult counterparts in criminal processes. This is premised the special vulnerability and limited capacity of children, who are still in a formative stage of development. Not only should any action that is taken be assessed according to the standards of the child’s best interests, but the system should be responsive to the child’s care and developmental needs in order to ensure that children are reintegrated back into their communities as law abiding citizens. Juvenile justice systems should therefore focus not only on the nature of the offence committed, but also on the root causes of the offending and the individual circumstances of the child involved.