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Justice for Children: in the Best Interest of the Child
“Justice for children means that irrespective of the outcome of the case, the child is always the winner. Everything is done in the best interest of the child.” With these remarks, Justice Renate Winter, Vice-President of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, described the objectives for those involved in the juvenile justice system and urged them to work together for a good future of the child.
Justice Renate Winter spoke to the representatives of different state agencies and non-government organizations at a round table discussion on the International Standards on Justice for Children. This event was organized by the Research Center under the Higher Judicial Council of Uzbekistan and UNICEF. Under the ongoing judicial reforms in Uzbekistan, she was invited to share some best practices that meet international standards on justice for children.
“Nobody had enough time for the child. If they had, the child would not come into conflict with the law! Parents were too busy and teachers had no time. It is in this moment that you can do something positive for the child. If a child comes in conflict with the law, there is a reason behind this. It is not always visible, but this must be understood and dealt with,” said Justice Renate Winter. She underlined the importance of investing time to understand each child’s specific case, background, needs, and the best interest.
Justice Renate Winter also highlighted importance of specialization of the police, investigators, prosecutors, judges and social service practitioners to knowledgeably engage with the children in conflict with the law. “The police officer is the first agent of the state the child interacts with. He must be specially trained for it to be a good first step for the child. Investigators without specialization will make mistakes, which lead a child to not wanting anything to do with the state. The judge must know how to deal psychologically with a child; and also when not to deal with a child because the judge needs an expert’s assistance.”
Participants of the round table meeting agreed that family, communities and professionals need to work together to prevent children from offending. Parents, teachers and neighbors have to look after their children and know if they might be in danger. Social workers should be there to protect them. Prosecutors, lawyers and judges should work as partners. They can use divisionary and alternative methods such as mediation, instead of trial and punishment that can stigmatize a child. All this would provide the child the necessary environment to live as a normal person when he goes back to his life.
These points were raised for making the Juvenile Justice System sensitive to children’s needs, to guarantee their rights, and to ensure children are not lost to justice. “We all know that experiences of children with the justice system at a young age impact their trust and belief in the rule of law,” said Afshin Parsi, Deputy Representative, UNICEF in Uzbekistan. He said that “the justice system should be adapted according to their needs, vulnerabilities, circumstances and age.”