BOLIVIA: Draft law on juvenile justice seeks greater compliance with children’s rights

Neglect, Exploitation and Violence

The draft law seeks to reform of several key inadequacies affecting children in conflict with the law, as well as those that come into contact with the law as victims or witnesses.

[3 July 2012] – A new publication on juveniles in conflict with the law in Bolivia, produced by a children’s rights organisation, has highlighted important inadequacies of the country’s current penal system when it comes to juveniles, and has led to a draft law that seeks reform in the justice system, including in the areas of sentencing of juveniles and the media’s coverage of court cases involving children.

Screen shot 2012-08-01 at 11_05_23 AMThe Bolivian branch of the organisation, Defence for Children International (DCI), published the report ‘Juvenile Justice in Bolivia’ in which it proposes setting up a special justice system for adolescents in conflict with the law between the ages of 16 and 18, which focuses on reintegration of the offender rather than his or her punishment.

DCI Bolivia and the Bolivian Supreme Court of Justice agreed to continue strengthening this initiative around the country, and to raise awareness on the issue of juvenile justice.

The media
The report also examines the problem of children’s representation in the media, and the draft Law on the Juvenile Justice Penal System recommends a ban on the publication of images of children under the age of 18.

Article 41 of the draft law stipulates that: “Under no circumstances will it be permitted to obtain or publish photographs or images of children, be it if they are suspected perpetrators, victims or witnesses of an act that is categorised as a offence, or to provide details that may lead to his or her identification”.

In cases in which juveniles stand trial, this process “shall take place behind closed doors, only in the presence of parties, experts and other persons summoned or those granted special permission by the juvenile justice court judge.” Efforts must be made to “prevent identification of a juvenile defendant and measures must be taken to prevent his or her image from being recorded in photographic or audiovisual materials.” And according to article 155, “under no circumstances may the judge authorise the installation in the court room of recording, photographic, radio, film or other equipment”.

According to statistics published in DCI’s report, “36 per cent of juvenile detainees were identified in the media last year, both by the police and the Attorney General’s office, in several of the country’s cities.

Images of juveniles were recorded when they were being transferred between facilities, including detention centres for juveniles in conflict with the law.

The report warns that even though two thirds of juvenile detainees have not had their image shown in the media, “much needs to be done to get the media to fully respect children’s right to privacy”.

One consequence of the indiscriminate publication of details of cases involving juveniles is widespread stigma, to the point that to a large extent, this age group is often accused of being responsible for the increasing crime wave in the country, highlights DCI.

As a result of sensationalist reporting by some news agencies when covering cases involving children in conflict with the law, in many cases children are discriminated against and even stigmatised to the point that they risk being arrested for simply dressing a certain way.

Alternatives to custodial sentences
According to article 172 of the draft law, judges must apply “socio-educational sentences,” before ordering the detention of offending juveniles in rehabilitation centres. To this end, judges must be willing to examine the circumstances in which offending juveniles broke the law.

DCI’s report explains that socio-educational sentences are non-custodial sentences which seek to play a role in the pedagogical aspects of the social reintegration of juvenile offenders. They are determined on a case by case basis, are formative in nature, and through the development of social, communication and conflict resolution skills, aim to instil in him or her the self-belief that they can play an active role in their society.

Each individual sentence shall be developed with the participation of the juvenile in question, his or her parent/s or guardian/s, and shall be presented to the presiding judge for approval.

The draft law also proposes the creation of a specialised juvenile justice police unit, which will be responsible for the identification and apprehension of suspected offenders, the identification of and assistance for victims, and the gathering and protection of evidence, among other tasks.

In 2010, a total of 9, 972 people were detained in prisons in Bolivia, which 838 were juveniles between the ages of 12 and 18.

For the original source of this article, please visit: http://crin.org/resources/infodetail.asp?id=28959

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