TAJIKISTAN Needs Child-Friendly Justice

Summary: Juvenile rights advocate calls for joined-up reforms to reduce number of youth offenders given custodial sentences.

Recent legal reforms in Tajikistan including the introduction of a new criminal procedures code need to be taken further through the creation of a separate justice system for minors, experts say.

At present, offenders under the age of 18 are dealt with by the same prosecutorial and judicial system as adults, although detention takes place in separate institutions. International best practice is to try adolescents in a separately-constituted, specialised judicial process.

IWPR asked Gulchehra Rahmanova, legal programmes manager at the Centre for Child Rights in Tajikistan, to set out to why such a separate system is needed.

Gulchehra Rahmanova: There are several serious problems, among them the absence of a special, child-friendly system of criminal justice for under-18s. This would seek not to punish but to alter behavioural patterns, and would consist of specialist judges, prosecutors, investigators and defence lawyers.

Juvenile crime prevention measures are sorely lacking in Tajikistan. Police place young offenders on their records, but no one follows up with them to help them avoid committing further crimes. We don’t have special rehabilitation centres to help children get back on track after they have gone astray.

Children under the age of criminal responsibility – 16 for most offences and 14 for grave crimes – are dealt with by the Commission for Child Rights. They can be detained for lengthy term. Between the ages of 11 and 14, they are placed in special schools, from 14 to 16 in vocational schools. Above that age, they are held in a specialised youth offenders detention facility. Mistreatment and poor conditions are problems in all places of confinement, including in pre-trial detention.

IWPR: How would introducing a juvenile justice system change things?

Rahmanova: It would bring the legislation, policies and practice of juvenile justice into line with international standards and establish a system that would afford young offenders proper treatment, respect for their rights, and dignity; and that would also curb crime and recidivism rates by responding to individual needs effectively.

IWPR: Can you give a sense of the scale of youth crime?

Rahmanova: I can’t speak for the whole country, but under a project conducted in Dushanbe, lawyers acted for 96 adolescents in 87 separate cases. Of the total, 33 defendants were given custodial terms, 44 given non-custodial sentences, and 19 had charges dropped. That’s just Dushanbe, and only children whose parents couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer.

IWPR: What progress has there been towards such a system?

Rahmanova: Amendments to the criminal code in 2004 include a ban on imprisoning juvenile offenders who have committed crimes of lesser or moderate gravity. The new criminal procedures code includes a special section on the treatment of under-18s.

At the same time, however, our legislation does not fully conform to international standards. For example, more authority needs to be given to police and prosecutors to allow them to seek non-custodial solutions for minors.

Last year, key ministries and state agencies signed up to a strategy of inter-agency cooperation on juvenile crime prevention. The interior ministry’s juvenile crime inspectorate underwent significant reforms in 2008, increasing staff numbers and refocusing the work so that officers spend most of their time on crime prevention.

Tajikistan’s Judicial Council has drafted plans to establish family courts. The current plan is that these courts would hear only disputes, but it has been proposed that they would also deal with criminal cases and rule on such matters as placing minors in care and in correctional facilities. Decisions on the latter currently rest with the Commission for Child Rights, which is part of the executive.

Although there have been some important steps towards reform, progress is very slow.

Responsibility for juvenile justice is diffused between the interior, justice and education ministries, the Judicial Council, the prosecutor general’s office, the Commission for Child Rights, and local government.

The various government agencies have demonstrated some commitment to achieving international standards of juvenile justice. However, there is no common vision of how the system would look, so approaches to reform are similarly fragmented.

IWPR: What is your organisation’s experience of working with state institutions on introducing a juvenile justice system?

Rahmanova: Since the outset, our organisation has been working closely the Judicial Council, the justice ministry’s department of correctional affairs, and the prosecutor’s office. It is also a member of the government’s Commission for Child Rights.

I would like to note that this work has been supported by UNICEF in Tajikistan. Thanks to this, we have developed pilot projects with centres in two districts of Dushanbe providing alternative justice. State agencies referred cases to the centres so that offenders would receive non-custodial forms of punishment and rehabilitation, and benefit from a psychological, social and practical services from social workers. The centres work closely with children’s families to identify and understand the motives behind their offences.

In seeking more effective progress for reforms, it’s very important to look at reforming the entire system rather than trying to change specific parts of the system without having an overall plan A national action plan for juvenile justice reform for the next five years has been approved by the Commission for Child Rights, using ideas from the Judicial Council.

This summer, the Tajik parliament passed legal amendments designed to replace custodial sentences with fines for non-violent crimes. Critics of the move say there is little chance that juvenile offenders will be able to afford to pay fines and will end up in confinement anyway. How do you see it?

Rahmanova: Personally, I’m against this change as far as minors are concerned. For adults, it does create a more humane form of justice. It’s very rare for fines to be imposed on young offenders. It isn’t even about the size of the fines, given that most crimes are committed by children from so-called dysfunctional families where parents simply cannot afford to pay a fine. This was the case even before fines were increased. So this change isn’t going to contribute to making juvenile justice more humane.

In our own organisation’s experience, there has only been one case in the last 18 months in which a judge has imposed a fine on a young offender, and this was because the individual had a job.

Owner: Parvina Khamidovapdf: http://iwpr.net/report-news/tajikistan-needs-child-friendly-justice


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