New APCJJ report: 'Addressing Juvenile Justice Priorities in the Asia-Pacific Region'

2016 Mar 23

The International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO) is proud to present the ‘Addressing Juvenile Justice Priorities in the Asia-Pacific Region’ report. The aim of this report is to identify and analyse the priority issues for juvenile justice systems in the Asia-Pacific region. Accordingly, the report deals with the issues of violence against children in the juvenile justice system, restorative justice, cross-border issues and diversionary and alternative measures. It was produced by the IJJO’s Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice, with the support of the Department for Juvenile Observation and Protection of the Ministry of Justice of Thailand.

This report is unique in the sense that it is comprised of a theoretical framework, snapshots from countries in the Asia-Pacific region and policy-oriented workshops. Promising practices are presented to give an overview of what can be done, in practice, to improve the development of juvenile justice systems in line with human rights standards.The report outlines the need to improve the juvenile justice system in accordance with human rights standards, including safeguards and policies in this area.

The report is based on the Second Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice held in Phuket in May 2015. Representatives from governments in the Asia-Pacific region, academia, judiciary and NGO’s discussed “Policy Recommendations on Violence against Children; Alternatives to Detention; Restorative Justice in the Asia-Pacific Region”. The meeting focused on three areas in particular: violence against children, alternatives to detention and restorative justice. Each of these subjects was tackled using a multilayered approach.

The first theme that is discussed in the report is violence against children. As children find themselves in particular vulnerable circumstances when they are in contact with the law, children can be easy targets of different types of violence: psychological pressure, abuse of power, degrading treatment and physical violence are only a few examples . This violence often remains invisible, causing it to be unrecorded and unprosecuted. Tackling this issue is a priority for governments and requires specific safeguards and complaint and monitoring mechanisms.

The second theme that is addressed in the report concerns diversionary measures and alternatives to detention. Detention is an overused measure to bring children to justice. Custody for children and young people should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Children are extremely vulnerable when they are in detention, so the necessary safeguards must be put in place. Furthermore, effective diversion and alternative measures based in the community facilitate reintegration into society. Governments should make it a priority to implement effective diversion and alternative measures in order to promote the development of the child and to limit the amount of children deprived of their liberty.

The last theme that is analysed in the report is restorative justice. Restorative justice can be used as a diversionary or alternative measure. Restorative justice is particularly interesting because it can be used to address the child’s specific needs. Furthermore, restorative justice aims to promote reconciliation between the parties, adding a rehabilitative purpose.

The last section of the report specifies the priorities of the Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice in the region. The APCJJ Subcommittee for ASEAN has established that cross-border safeguards for children in contact with the law should be brought to the attention of the member states. As member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are working towards opening their borders, this issue becomes extremely relevant.

The report concludes with some key recommendations on every topic that was addressed. The most important recommendations represented in this report are, in summary:

  1. Reducing the number of children in contact with the justice system, for instance, by avoiding criminalization of statutory offences and setting an appropriate age of criminal responsibility, which is an effective way to avoid the risk of secondary victimization within the justice system;
  2. Ensuring that deprivation of liberty is only used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, by promoting available and effective options of diversion, as well as alternatives to detention;
  3. Fostering diversion measures, as it allows to reduce the cost of court proceedings and generally proves to be more responsive to the needs of first time and non-serious offenders;
  4. Ensuring that legislation guarantees the recourse to diversion at every stage of the criminal justice proceedings;
  5. During restorative processes, both the offender and the victim shall enjoy fair trial guarantees to avoid secondary victimization and ensure fairness of the proceeding. Restorative principles, such as voluntary participation, confidentiality and neutrality of the mediator, should be guaranteed by law;
  6. Facilitators shall be offered high quality training, both as a precondition to get in contact with children, as well as throughout their experience in restorative practices;
  7. National legislation shall ensure that every child has the right to equal and fair treatment, regardless of their nationality;
  8. Legislation shall enshrine the right to privacy of children: any information collected in the course of the proceeding is not to become public, even after the child has reach 18 years of age.

The IJJO would like to express its most sincere gratitude to all the participants that attended the Second Meeting of the APCJJ, and in particular, the speakers and the DJOP, UNODC, UNICEF and the Thai Institute of Justice, for engaging so actively in the exchange of knowledge that constitutes the basis of the APCJJ’s action. Furthermore, the IJJO would like to thank all the contributors to this report for their hard work and their expertise. The IJJO looks forward to opening a new chapter in this constructive cooperation process for the next APCJJ meeting.