Wannapa Khaopa The Nation on sunday
Young inmates at remand homes can become socially acceptable people, too, when they are raised by “parents” who understand them. This was the message at the first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Council for Juvenile Justice (APCJJ).
In Japan, married couples, who are government officials working for juvenile justice-related agencies, have taken on the responsibility of being their adoptive parents. Each of the couples has to take care of about 12 young offenders.
Thai officials found this case study of juvenile justice, presented recently at the APCJJ meeting, interesting.
“Living together as if they are part of the same family, each couple treats them as their own children, the parents teach them life skills and also the youngsters are given education. So, after graduation, they will be ready to live with people in society peacefully,” said Tawatchai Thaikyo, director-general of the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection (DJOP).
“Such rehabilitation is successful and interesting as it helps foster suitable behaviour in them,” he said.
Thailand’s approach was also seen as interesting among other Asean countries. It looks into what motivates a juvenile to violate laws, and classifies them into different groups – from low to high risk – then provides them different rehabilitation programmes to cope with delinquents having different motivations or problems, according to Tawatchai.
“The IJJO [International Juvenile Justice Observatory] wants detention to be the last alternative. Our tool, that helps understand their motivations, can help many youngsters considered in the low-risk group from being detained as the DJOP helps them to reach a compromise with plaintiffs,” he added.
The IJJO, the DJOP and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation jointly organised the APCJJ meeting recently, attended by representatives from nine Asean countries (excluding Brunei), Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Canada, and Spain.
“We would like most of the countries to have the same open mind and initiatives,” Cristina Goni, secretary-general of the IJJO, said.
“Juvenile justice can be improved if governments invest more in prevention of youth crime and violence,” she added.
“Importantly, the strong message to the rest of the countries of the world is that juvenile justice is a priority. This is the key message of the meeting,” said Cedric Foussard, IJJO director of international affairs.
Both said they would like people working in the juvenile justice community to consider children as children when it came to punishment, to give them a second chance to change themselves in a more suitable way so that they would grow up as acceptable adults.
“Sadly, in many Asia-Pacific countries, children are not separated from adults,” Goni said.
“You should not consider the same sanction for adults and for children. We consider preventive measures to avoid recidivism that prevent children to commit crimes again. What we would like to see implemented everywhere is that justice systems give the child an opportunity to be integrated in society,” Foussard said.
The meeting encouraged the member countries to change the appropriate minimum age of criminal responsibility for juveniles to 12 years old. Currently, some countries have set 10 years while some countries preferred 14 years as the minimum age for criminal responsibility.
It had an agreement to allow juveniles to participate in rehabilitation so as to create friendly rehabilitation for them.
More data collection was also urged so that the Asia-Pacific region will be able to have better reports on juvenile justice.
With different skills and standards of juvenile justice among relevant personnel in different countries in this region, the meeting agreed to seek assistance from the IJJO to upgrade knowledge, skills and standards for them through training.
Goni said that the IJJO is considering training for all stakeholders on children’s rights and on how to deal with a child. This is because many officers from different agencies all over the world have not received specific training on children’s rights, international standards and basic approaches on how to speak and deal with a child.