Prevention of violence through law
Preventing violence through law
Legislation lays the foundation of a culture of respect for children’s rights and can trigger lasting change in the social acceptance of violence against children. By promoting children’s rights and addressing the root causes of violence, the law plays a crucial role in the prevention of violence.
Legislation should address prevention, protection and support to child victims of violence
Safeguarding the rights of children deprived of liberty is crucial to prevent violence and secondary victimization within the juvenile justice system
The juvenile justice legislation in Colombia, the “Código de la Infancia,” recognizes the special and differentiated character of juvenile justice from adult criminal justice. It builds upon the principles set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (including the principle of the best interest of the child), on other international instruments and on the Constitution. Specialized justice is complemented by due process guarantees, including: The principle of legality (no crime without legal prohibition); the protection of identity and use of personal information; the right to legal counselling and defence throughout legal proceedings ; immediate processing of all procedural acts; respect for plural legal criminal systems of indigenous children and other ethnic groups; the exceptional character of deprivation of liberty and only using it as a last resort; separation of children from adults; the prohibition of agreements between prosecutors and defenders and undertaking criminal proceedings against the child in absentia. Furthermore, Colombian legislation prohibits keeping public criminal records of young offenders, which is an important measure to prevent stigmatization and promote the social reintegration of children in contact with the juvenile justice system.
To be effective, legislation should also seek to address the underlying causes of violence.
Portugal’s extensive drug law reforms and decriminalization of low-level possession and use of all illicit drugs is a good example of how adolescents’ use of drugs can be decreased, while addressing some of the causes for their contact with the criminal justice system. Rather than imposing criminal sanctions such as deprivation of liberty, which increases the risk of violence against children, the Portuguese approach invests in treatment and harm reduction services. Evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding, as well as less stigma of drug addiction, which allows people to seek professional help without fear.
Measures to reduce the availability and harmful use of alcohol are essential for protecting the rights of children and reducing armed violence in the community. Interventions which have proved effective in reducing alcohol consumption include taxation and pricing policies, minimum age limits, restrictions on hours and venues where alcohol is sold. The experience of the Diadema community in Brazil illustrates how effective regulation of alcohol can reduce violence against women and children. The law requires bars to close by 11pm, security cameras in high-crime areas, and increasing local and state police patrols around bars, car parks and other spaces deemed to be high-risk. The intervention also include vocational training and work placements for high-risk youths, life skills training and organized activities during school holidays (a peak period for youth crime).
Arms trafficking fuels violence and organized. A comprehensive coherent legal framework is essential for the success of efforts to reduce gun proliferation and prevent armed violence. Legislation should prevent children, and unauthorized or irresponsible users from having access to guns, and prevent the build-up of arsenals. The most successful gun laws rely on a robust system of licensing owners, registration of weapons and strong enforcement. A number of countries are strengthening their gun laws and seeing reductions in gun violence as a result. Weapons surrender, collection and destruction programmes have been part of some of the most successful national gun law reform packages. The largest gun destruction programme was held Australia, where gun laws have been reformed to include a ban on semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. The banned weapons were bought back and destroyed in a programme that removed nearly 650,000 guns from circulation initially, and was later extended to bring the total to over one million. The gun buy-back and other elements of the reform package dramatically reduced gun deaths in Australia.
Some initiatives have also been directed primarily at children and toy guns, on the basis that these contribute to normalizing the acceptance of the use of weapons. Afghanistan has recently banned the sale of toy guns as part of an effort to curb the culture of violence.
Protection of children from contact with offenders
An important aspect of preventing violence against children is ensuring that people whose job involves regular contact with them have not been convicted of any crimes against children. This can apply both to paid and to voluntary positions.
Article 4 of the Model Law prepared by UNODC and UNICEF on justice in matters involving child victims and witnesses of crime provides for the protection of children from contact with offenders as follows:
Any person who has been convicted in a final verdict of a qualifying criminal offence against a child shall not be eligible to work in a service, institution or association providing services to children.
Services, institutions or associations providing services to children shall take appropriate measures to ensure that persons who have been charged with a qualifying criminal offence against a child shall not come into contact with children.
For the purposes of paragraphs 1 and 2 of this article, [name of competent body] shall promulgate regulations that contain the following:
(a) A definition of a qualifying criminal offence with respect to the severity of the sentence that may be imposed by the court;
(b) A list of mandatory qualifying criminal offences;
(c) The mandate of the court to issue an order preventing an individual convicted of such criminal offences from working in services, institutions or associations providing services to children;
(d) A definition of services, institutions and associations providing services to children;
(e) Measures to be taken by services, institutions and associations providing services to children to ensure that persons charged with a qualifying criminal offence do not come into contact with children.
Any person who knowingly violates paragraph 1 or 2 of this article shall be guilty of an offence and shall be subject to the punishment.