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Prerequisites for understanding Juvenile Justice and Violence in Latin America

In order to function in the field of Juvenile Justice and Violence in Latin America, you need to have an understanding of the international framework, including main instruments and key concepts used.

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Critical documents that all practitioners in the field need to know are the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the General Comments No. 8 (Corporal Punishment), No.10 (Juvenile Justice) and No.13 (Violence), the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR (both from 2011, 1. Report on the human rights of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas, 2. Report on juvenile justice and human rights in the Americas), the United Nations study on violence against children (A/61/299), the joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (A/HRC/16/56, 2011), and the joint report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children on prevention of and responses to violence against children within the juvenile justice system (A/HRC/21/25, 2012).

With these documents in-hand, the next requirement is a thorough knowledge of the main terms employed – ‘juvenile justice system’ and ‘violence’. One may consider the Juvenile Justice System as a set of actions and procedures that are developed from an authority, public service or agency aware of the possible commission of a wrongful act by a child, active until the legal consequences of the offense are executed. Therefore, we consider the juvenile justice system exclusively when there is a child in conflict with the law and not only when referring to a child victim or witness: this consideration must take into account the best interests of the child and protect the child against all types of violence.

As for the widely-used term ‘violence’, the definition recommended for use, found in both Article 19.1 of the UNCRC, General Comment No. 13 and the Study on Violence against Children (2006), is that violence is “all forms of physical or mental or physical abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse.” An expanded version of the meaning of ‘violence’ includes the intentional use of physical force or power, either in degree of threat or effective, against a child by a person or group, that causes or has a high likelihood of resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity – found in the 2002 World Report on Violence and Health. Violence is a broad term and can include both physical and mental aspects, neglect and negligent treatment as well as violence generated by mass media. Furthermore violence can be specific (to a singular case) or structural, either can occur in the setting – and any phase – of the juvenile justice system.  

Recommendations and possible solutions would include the State treating the child as a subject of rights as opposed to a mere object of justice: giving the child opportunities to participate throughout the legal proceedings, completely respecting due process of law. At the same time, the State must take into account the vulnerabilities of the child: establishing specific instances (specialised and specific); creating appropriate complaint mechanisms; coordinating and collaborating throughout the juvenile justice sector; and of course, respecting the best interests of the child in all and every case.

Jorge Cardona
Member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)