A strong child today leads to a strong society tomorrow. World Congress for Justice with Children calls for alternatives to detention of children

New York, 20 November 2021– SRSG Maalla M'jid called for prioritizing prevention, restorative justice and alternatives to detention, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children at the World Congress for Justice with Children that gathered over 4,800 intergenerational participants from over 100 countries,  

In a virtual event under the theme “Ensuring access to justice for all children: towards non-discriminatory and inclusive child justice systems” to explore best practices, foster scientific cooperation, and raise awareness on child-friendly justice, the UN Special Representative joined forces with policymakers, legal practitioners, academics, and civil society representative.  

“The current pandemic showed us the essentiality but also the fragility of children’s access to justice globally. Building back better after the pandemic and beyond must be seen as an opportunity to rethink the role of justice for and with children” added Dr. Maalla M'jid. 

The one-week virtual event was organized by the Global Initiative on Justice with Children and aimed to place children’s rights at the top of the international agenda, to promote fair and appropriate justice systems, to exchange practice-oriented strategies to reduce discrimination, and to ensure that all children are guaranteed equal treatment in the justice system.  

At the international plenary of the Congress, the Special Representative joined an interactive dialogue about Access to Justice for children in which she highlighted that the deprivation of liberty is a severe violation of children’s fundamental human rights, and that it erodes efforts made on sustainable development. 

“Depriving children of their liberty impacts on their wellbeing and the effects continue into adulthood. The negative consequences contribute to poor physical and mental health, lack of access to education, a high rate of recidivism, family breakdown, and unemployment. These result in higher costs for society in the long term,” said SRSG Maalla M'jid.  

Children in contact with justice systems – as victims, witnesses, or perpetrators – have the same rights as any other child, with equal and equitable respect for the protection of their rights and wellbeing, with sensitivity towards the vulnerabilities and needs faced by each child and recognition of their evolving capacities. This World Congress offered the opportunity to accelerate global progress towards child-friendly justice and to create an enabling environment for children to engage and participate in justice related processes.  

“The World Congress on Justice With Children gives an opportunity to exchange on new global trends on child justice and will certainly be an insightful platform which will provide food for thought in responding to the challenges arising from the current situation,” stressed Mr. Luis Pedernera, Immediate Former Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  

Panel on the Equal Access to Justice for Indigenous Children 

As one important pillar of this congress, the Office of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children and UNICEF co-organized a panel entitled “Equal Access to Justice for Indigenous Children,” focusing on the rights of indigenous children. 

The lack of equal access to justice has caused severe negative impacts on the lives of Indigenous children in multiple aspects and was detrimental to the wellbeing of indigenous families and communities.  

The objective of this panel was to highlight the consequences of lack of access to justice for Indigenous children, their families, and communities and share Indigenous-led solutions for systemic change so that Indigenous children have equal access to justice with meaningful participation in the decisions and policies that affect them. It reaffirmed the concrete commitment of stakeholders at global, regional, and national levels to promote, protect, and fulfill children’s rights. 

Panelists concurred that it is essential to continue and strengthen data collection and assessments to understand how indigenous, minority and marginalized children in contact with the law, how their access to justice is being impeded, and the root causes of negative differential treatment towards these children by justice systems, in order to develop properly informed, effective, and sustainable interventions.  

SRSG Maalla M'jid reaffirmed the commitment of the UN Task Force to continue supporting Member States in their efforts to scale up positive practices on alternatives to detention in line with the 2030 Agenda and work in close cooperation with the NGO Panel and other stakeholders at global, regional, and national levels. 

“Eight years remain to keep our promise to end all forms of violence against children by 2030. As we take stock of responses to the pandemic so far and look ahead to building back better afterwards, we must invest in prevention and in child rights-based alternatives to children’s deprivation of liberty,” said Dr. Maalla M'jid. 

By encompassing eleven sub-themes, this congress encouraged a multidisciplinary, comprehensive, inclusive, and child-centered approach in access to justice for and with children and particularly addressed the need of individuals and marginalized ones.  

“Our objective is to provide children with a robust, protective, and progressive environment. The Justice system is trying to protect them from violence because a strong child today leads to a strong society tomorrow,” stressed Justice, Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.