The term "juvenile justice" refers to legislation, norms and standards, procedures, mechanisms and provision, institutions and bodies specifically applicable to juvenile offenders.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, "States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth" (Article 40.1). Several international and regional standards exist, representing the good practice for a humane, fair, efficient and effective juvenile justice system.
Fundamental principles of a juvenile justice system
Children need to be treated with humanity: the Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly forbids torture, capital punishment and life imprisonment without the possibility of release for all persons below 18 years, while limiting the use of deprivation of liberty as a measure of last resort - when all other alternative solutions do not seem possible or adequate. In those cases when it is required, it should only be administered for the shortest period possible.
The system shall be child-centred, i.e. recognising the child as subject to fundamental rights and freedoms and ensuring that all actions concerning the child are to be guided by his/her best interests.
A juvenile justice system shall aim to encourage specialisation in child justice practice and the development of a system of criminal justice that treats children in a manner appropriate to their age and level of maturity and which develops institutions and systems designed to achieve that goal. What this refers to is not a single juvenile justice system, but multiple, inter-connected systems.
Towards a Child-friendly justice
The term "Child-friendly justice" refers to justice systems that guarantee the respect of all children's rights, give due consideration to the child's level of maturity, and is adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child.
In order to covers all situations where a child is in contact with the justice system, an approach called "Justice for children" has been developed. The goal of the justice for children approach is to ensure that children, defined as all persons under the age of eighteen, are better served and protected by justice systems, whether in contact with the justice system as victims, witnesses or offenders.
Three major strands of work
Prevention in order to ensure that boys and girls do not come into conflict with the law in the first place and therefore do not come into contact with the formal criminal justice system.
Diversion & restorative justice to ensure that at all possible stages girls and boys are diverted away from the formal justice system and into community-based and restorative processes that address effectively the causes of their behaviours.
Protection of children who are already in conflict with the law from human rights violations, focusing on their development in order to deter them from re-offending and to promote their rehabilitation.