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Coaching justice professionals for interviewing child victims and witnesses of crimes

Print version
08 November 2018
Every year some children come in contact with the law enforcement agencies in Uzbekistan, either as victims and witnesses of crimes. When a child walks into a police station to be interviewed, he or she is already stressed of an unknown environment and strangers around. Not knowing the procedures, repeated interviews, and confrontations with the offender can further negatively affect child’s wellbeing and distort the account of events.

Yet, some approaches have been used to reduce the anxiety of the child, for instance, by interviewing the child in a special room by a trained forensic professional. There are two key factors that can protect the best interest of the child - firstly, by creating a child-friendly environment and using a specialized interview protocol, developed according to the child’s age; and secondly, by minimizing the number of interviews. Such approaches also help gather quality evidence for further court use, without exposing children to re-victimization.


These were some of the key points of the training, organized by UNICEF for investigators of the bodies of internal affairs, teachers of the Academy of Prosecutor’s General Office and criminal court judges. The purpose of the training was to understand the good international practices of interviewing child victims and witnesses of crimes.

“To ensure meaningful participation of children in the justice process, it is important to create a child-friendly environment. However, what is also important is the preparedness of the justice professionals to deal with child victims and witnesses of crimes,” said Sascha Graumann, Representative, UNICEF Uzbekistan. “In particular, investigators, prosecutors, judges and lawyers should be trained in forensic interviewing of child victims and witnesses of crimes. Child-friendly interviewing may ensure protection of these vulnerable children from further traumatization.”

UNICEF has been working with the Government of Uzbekistan for introducing innovative methods of investigation and establishing child-friendly interview rooms in Tashkent and other regions. At present, 16 child-friendly rooms for interviews have been set up in the regional offices of Investigation Department of the Ministry of Interior. The first three of them were established with the UNICEF’s support.

“Children are different from adults. They have different needs, different development, and different way of talking, thinking, reasoning and telling a story. They are very vulnerable and particularly susceptible to manipulation. We have to take these factors into account and treat them differently,” said Ursina Weidkuhn, UNICEF’s expert on Justice for Children.

Different treatment means adapting procedures, environment, child-friendly language and awareness of the child’s individual needs. One such example is the presence of a support person for the child during interrogations to ensure the child’s wellbeing.

The participants also learned about establishing a connection with a child, using open-ended question and avoiding closed and suggestive questions during interviews, in accordance with international evidence-based investigative interviewing of children protocol developed by the American National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The protocol is based on research related to the children's cognitive development and communication skills, and includes questions that enhance children’s ability to provide accurate information. It has been translated into several languages and is being used in many countries as the most non-suggestive methodology.

“I have discovered many new things during the training,” said Aynura Sabyrbaeva, investigator from Nukus, Karakalpakstan. “The Scandinavian Children House approach has impressed me the most. This is a great idea to combine all the services the child victim needs in one place.”

Known as the Barnahus model, the Children House provides legal, medical, and social assistance to children under one roof, protecting them from additional trauma of repeating their statements at different times. It has received the multidisciplinary award by the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (IPSCAN).

During the five-day training, the participants also discussed the challenges in working with child victims and witnesses. While several amendments for protecting the rights of the accused have been adopted in the legislation, the rights of witnesses and victims of crimes have been overlooked. This can create a direct confrontation between the accused and a victim during the investigation and trial. The use of video and audio recording of interviews obtained at pre-trial and trial stages can protect vulnerable child victims and witnesses from trauma.

“By next year, we plan to establish interview rooms in all regions of Uzbekistan,” said Jasurbek Saidov, Head, Investigation and Coordination Unit of Investigation Department, Ministry of Interior. “Every investigator will work in these rooms directly with minors. The knowledge we have gained from the training will greatly facilitate our work. Most importantly, it will help us better protect the rights of children.”

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UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality. That makes us unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.

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