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Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine held Parliamentary Hearing on Child’s Rights in Ukraine

Admin 17/10/2016 2 133 News / Publications

Country Director for Ukraine of Agriteam Canada Consulting, Tawnia Sanford Ammar delivered a speech on the issue of criminal justice for minors during Parliamentary Hearings of Verkhovna Rada dedicated to the situation with children’s rights in Ukraine on October 12.

Full text of speech given by Ms. Tawnia Sanford Ammar at Parliamentary Hearings on Child’s Rights in Ukraine:

I will be focusing on the issue of criminal justice for minors. First of all I am pleased to do that because I’ve noticed it has not received a great deal of attention in the draft of Recommendations of today’s Parliamentary Hearings that we have been provided this afternoon. But I am also pleased to talk about this subject because this is an issue I’ve been working on personally for the last seven years in Ukraine under the auspices of the Criminal Justice for Minors project which is funded by the government of Canada.

Together with our partners in the Supreme Court of Ukraine, the High Specialized Court, the Ministry of Social Policy and the Ministry of Justice we have been working to develop a system of justice for young people that effectively protects their rights and incorporates international standards.

You might think that this is a rather narrow topic and something that doesn't concern you because we are talking about people who break the law. But if you have a young person in your life – this is an issue that you need to be concerned about. Because I'm not talking about hardened criminals. I'm talking about the hundreds of young people between the ages of 14 and 18 – that Ukraine incarcerates every year for minor property crimes such as stealing a mobile phone. Even worse, the sentences for these property crimes are disproportionately long with the average sentence being 4 years.

This is largely because the criminal code provides sentences for youth based on adult sentences. The problem with this of course is children are not adults. As a society, we recognize that fact. We limit the rights of youth to smoke or drink or vote before a certain age because we recognize they don’t have the same decision making capacities as adults.

Likewise, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and related documents outline the special approaches we should employ with youth that commit crimes. Ukraine has ratified the Convention so these documents should be the measuring stick against which we look at the Ukrainian system. We can’t review all of the recommendations made in those documents but I’d like to highlight a couple of the main principles:

First, youth should have the same fundamental rights and freedoms as adults. But they should also have additional special rights because of their age.  For example, while everyone has the right to be heard and participate in criminal proceedings, young people may need to have the proceedings explained to them in an age–appropriate manner.

Second, our response to offenses committed by minors should be timely and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. Custody (including pre-trial detention) should be considered only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time. 

Unfortunately, Ukrainian legislation does not adequately consider the special rights of youth in criminal proceedings. Nor does it provide good alternative sentences for youth.

To address this later issue, we – along with our partners in the Ministry of Social Policy and the State Penitentiary Service decided to develop an alternative to custody in the form of youth probation. We have been piloting this probation model since 2011 in 7 cities. And the results have been remarkable. To date, 392 youth have gone through our program. And of those, only 9 youth have re-offended. This is a recidivism rate of 2 %.

We think this works so well because we are not using a one size fits all approach. Much like a doctor diagnoses a patient, we assess the youth and determine what approaches they need to be rehabilitated.

Of course, 7 cities is not enough and we need to see full implementation of probation for youth across the country.

Finally, we also need to see supportive legislation in place to provide more appropriate sentencing options. We need legislation that provides for the special rights of children and that provides for training of investigators, judges and attorneys so that they can be truly specialized and prepared to work on juvenile case.

Luckily such draft legislation has already been written, draft law #2340a, which was registered in  Parliament in July 2015 led by the Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement Legislation, with the active leadership with Ms Iryna Lutsenko,  Member of Parliament.

Support of this draft law is a quick win for rule of law reform. This law is backed up by evidence from our 5 years of testing.  We know it works. But it is also a win for Ukrainian youth who deserve to be given a second chance when they make a mistake. And I think it’s a win for society in general – because if we could continue to enjoy a recidivism rate of 2%, Ukraine will make major strides in reducing its overall crime rate.

Thank you for your attention!

Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine held Parliamentary Hearing on Child’s Rights in Ukraine
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Comments (2)

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