States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society. (art. 40.1 UNCRC)

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Since 2005, date of the Bethlehem declaration, DCI has prioritised Juvenile Justice in its actions at the international, regional and national level, paying particular attention to the monitoring of the Guiding Principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and General Comment No.10 on “the rights of the child in juvenile justice”. Even before 2005, DCI has been very actively involved in juvenile justice, collaborating to the drafting of the UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (‘Riyadh Guidelines – 1990’) and the UN Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (‘Beijing Rules – 1985’).

Furthermore, in 2008, on the impulse of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, DCI launched a follow-up project to promote and monitor the use of its General Comment No.10 on Juvenile Justice. The International General Assembly (IGA), held on the 10th and 11th of March 2012 in Geneva, reiterated the importance of juvenile justice as a key priority issue for the movement, but including all the different aspects of justice adapted to children. This constituted an important step forward in the redefinition of DCI’s strategy and plans for the future.

Although the 1989 UNCRC and other international instruments contain special provisions on children’s access to and treatment in justice worldwide, justice systems do not cater to the specific needs of children and are still predominantly adult-oriented. Globally, many children are largely denied their right to access justice. For many years, DCI, on both a global level and through its national sections, has operated in the field of juvenile justice, trying to respond with advocacy, research and lobby actions, as well as direct intervention.

DCI contributed as an expert to the Guidelines on child-friendly justice, adopted by the Council of Europe (CoE). This is a non-binding practical tool to assist European states in establishing justice systems responding to the specific needs of children, with an intention towards ensuring children the effective and adequate access to and treatment in justice. More recently, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) of the African Union adopted the Guidelines on Action for Children in the Justice system in Africa, a document that DCI wrote together with the ACPF (African Child Policy Forum). This contributed to the drafting of the International Conference in Kampala, Uganda, which was organised in November 2011.

DCI believes that no child belongs behind bars. The deprivation of liberty should be used only as the very last resort in dealing with children in conflict with the law.

DCI’s work addresses a number of aspects of juvenile justice systems, including for example:

  • The prevention of delinquency and attention to the root causes that bring children in conflict with the law
  • Promotion of diversion and the use of measures which do not foresee the deprivation of liberty for children
  • The training and professional development of actors in the justice system
  • The monitoring and improvement of conditions of detention
  • The right to education in places of detention
  • The rehabilitation and reinsertion of children in conflict with the law
  • The child’s participation, especially the implementation of the principles stated in the UNCRC General Comment N. 12 on the “rights of the child to be heard”

DCI uses a number of strategies to promote and defend the rights of children in juvenile justice, including: advocacy and lobbying; direct intervention; monitoring and reporting; research and documentation; training and capacity building; networking and information sharing.

Specifically, the International Secretariat is currently undertaking the following activities:

  • International advocacy for children’s rights in juvenile justice
  • Technical support and capacity building to national sections
  • Research and monitoring on pressing issues related to justice for children
  • Campaigning for the realisation of child-friendly justice systems worldwide.