RJ and children’s rights: Report from the Conference 25 Years CRC

The EFRJ board member and vice-chair Annemieke Wolthuis attended the 25 years CRC (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) Conference in Leiden on 18 and 19 November 2014.

The Conference was opened by prof. Ton Liefaard who holds the UNICEF chair on children’s rights at the University of Leiden. Among the plenary speakers were Michael Freeman and Vitit Muntarbhorn, both human rights experts with an extended CV who looked back at the last 25 years of children’s rights since the adoption of the CRC and to ways forward. Muntarbhorn called the CRC an instrument of change, an interdisciplinary bridge, a window for politicians, a mirror of reflection and a gateway to commitments, linked with everything else to improve life for all children. He also mentioned RJ as a community approach as one of the good developments.

Annemieke presented during the juvenile justice/restorative justice workshop on 18 November on restorative justice and children’s rights, the topic of her dissertation/book of 2012. In 1989 when the CRC was launched, the concept “restorative justice” was not yet used so much and does not yet appear in the Convention, but every other international instrument (conventions, guidelines, recommendations) released after 1995 do. The Committee on the Rights of the Child launched in 2006 General Comment 10 stating that “The protection of the best interests of the child means, for instance that the traditional objectives of criminal justice (repression/retribution) must give way to rehabilitation and RJ objectives in dealing with child offenders. This can be done in concert with attention to public safety.” These documents create an obligation for states to arrange RJ in the juvenile justice scene. Here you find the abstract of her presentation. Since the outcomes of the evaluation of the Dutch pilots at court and police level are not yet available, Annemieke took the occasion to also show the participants the just released RJ film made by the EFRJ the Foresee Research Team in occasion of the international RJ Week 2014 (“Restorative justice. Inspiring the future of a just society for all”). Indeed,  the 25 years CRC Conference in Leiden occurred during the RJ Week and both events are worth a celebration.

During the workshop, the first presenter was prof Caroline Hamilton of the University of Essex, Children’s Rights Centre, who was a bit more critical of RJ and its results and expressed the need for more evaluations. She also presented an alterative project on family dysfunction:  Family Focused Programming Practice that they successfully piloted in countries like Kazakhstan. Annemieke sees more that such kind of developments should co-exist. There is so much more to do in the prevention sphere where families can play an important role. Also here RJ developments as conferencing in youth care situations can be mentioned, but when criminal offences are committed then still reactions need to follow. That was also mentioned by Maria Herczog, the Hungarian member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child who attended the workshop.

The  last presenter was Alison Cleland from the university of Auckland, New Zealand. She presented on RJ and some problems faced in her country. With her colleague.  Khylee Quince she just released the book “Youth justice in Aotearoa” (the latter is the Maori word for New Zealand). Some of the things she mentioned were that the family group conference at the heart of the youth justice system has resulted in positive changes: 80% are diverted annually, the police apprehension is high, they know the youngsters. Numbers in the courts have diminished in the last 6  years with 33% and 46% in youth court. At the same time the Maori population is still overrepresented in the youth justice system (60%) and in prison (51%) while the total number in population is 14,9%. Alison is in favour of more use of community courts like the Kooti Rangathari, currently being evaluated, but giving special consideration indigenous’ rights.  The presentation resulted in a short discussion afterwards on the indigenous rights and the fact that the current western society “tries to fit everything in”.

For more information on Annemieke and the other Board Members, please visit this webpage.