Justice for Children
© UNICEF Bulgaria/2014/Mirela Vavova
Children participants in judicial proceedings are particularly vulnerable. They could be victims and witnesses of violence and crime, in conflict with the law or participate in administrative and civil procedures, but what is common for all children in the various situations they come into contact with the justice systems is the need for adapted and child-sensitive procedures implemented by specifically trained professionals.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the international community recognize the particular vulnerability of children which is reflected in the UN Approach to Justice for Children
The goal of the Justice for Children Approach is to guarantee that children have access to justice and are better served and protected by the justice systems.
UNICEF is working to achieve this goal by ensuring the access to justice for all children, so that:
:: every child has the ability to obtain timely and efficient remedies when his or her rights have been violated;
:: every child receives information for his or her rights as a participant in a judicial proceeding in a manner adapted to his or her age and evolving capacity;
:: every child is heard in all judicial and administrative proceedings that affect his or her life and wellbeing;
:: every child is supported and accompanied by trained professionals.
Justice for Children includes:
- Children alleged as, accused of, or recognised as having infringed the penal law;
- Children victims and witnesses of violence and crime;
- Children parties to civil proceedings (custody, care, protection, visiting rights, adoption, inheritance, etc.);
- Children parties to administrative proceedings (challenging denial of social benefits, denial of health care, education; administrative offenses; etc.);
- All children potentially, when their rights are violated or their entitlement denied and they want to seek redress.
Children face the same procedures and obstacles in accessing justice and support as all the other citizens, but in addition, also face specific legal and social barriers due to their particular status of minors.
The justice system in Bulgaria is not yet adapted to the rights and special needs of children for support and protection. Complex and lengthy procedures, vague legal language, lack of coordination and cooperation between child protection bodies, the police, prosecutors’ office and court, as well as insufficient number of professionals with special training to work with children, including specialized legal counsel are part of the challenges for children and families in Bulgaria. In addition, legislation does not create sufficient guarantees for the right of children to be heard in all proceedings affecting their rights and issues related to their life and wellbeing.
As a result the justice system can discourage children to seek protection for their fundamental human rights and generate further harm rather than redress and justice.
UNICEF Bulgaria works in partnership with the Government, local authorities, professionals from the police, prosecutor’s office and the court, as well as the social services, bar associations, children and young people, civil society, media and business to ensure the right of every child to equitable access to justice.
Our efforts are aimed at:
:: Legislative change in accordance to international and European standards, so that the best interests of all children participants in judicial and administrative proceedings are guaranteed, which includes:
- introducing adapted and child-sensitive procedures and appropriate environment for interviewing children victims and witnesses of violence and crime that guarantee the aims of investigation are fulfilled and at the same time do not bring adverse consequences for the psychological recovery of children;
- introducing adapted procedures, which ensure the right of all children to be heard in all procedures – criminal, civil and administrative, dealing with their life and wellbeing;
- introducing diversion from criminal proceedings, the restorative justice approach and guarantees that pre-trial and trial detention and all forms of deprivation of liberty are measures of last resort and are implemented for the minimum period of time with regard to children in conflict with the law.
:: Building the capacity of professionals, through:
- introducing requirements for specialization to work with children for police officers, prosecutors and judges;
- developing training programmes and curricula for social workers, police officers, prosecutors and judges.
:: Advocacy for change of public attitudes regarding:
- children in conflict with the law need support and opportunity for second chance;
- children victims and witnesses of violence and crime need support to gain redress and protection of their human dignity;
- all children have the right to be heard in all judicial and administrative procedures.