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Young offenders need community support, says UN child rights official

The Myanmar Times (
19 July 2004
Nwe Nwe Aye

THE involvement of families and the community is essential to ensure that children in conflict with the law do not re-offend after they are released from correctional institutions, a senior official with a UN committee said in Yangon last week.

“Some children re-offend because they are rejected by their families and society,” said Professor Jaap Doek, the chairperson of the Geneva-based UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“It is really important to help children to get back into society and reintegrated into their families,” Professor Doek told Myanmar Times on the sidelines of a workshop on juvenile justice and child protection at the Sedona Hotel on July 12 and 13.

The workshop was organised by the Supreme Court and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Professor Doek said most children in conflict with the law were first-time offenders who had committed petty crimes.

Professor Doek said socio-economic conditions, a child’s character, inadequate parental attention and care and a lack of emotional support from parents and teachers were the main causes of juvenile delinquency.

He said research by the committee had shown that long terms in correctional institutions were not an appropriate response to children who committed serious crimes. Professor Doek said there should be more alternatives to imprisonment for children, including non-custodial sentences and community-based programs.

He said correctional institutions should provide education and vocational training to young offenders so help them build better lives after they are released.

The number of children in custody should be kept as low as possible and there was also a need to speed up investigations and court cases, he said.

Ms Carroll Long, the UNICEF resident representative, said in an opening address at the workshop that one million children were in detention worldwide and most had committed petty crimes or were awaiting trial, sometimes for extended periods.

Ms Long said most children in conflict with the law have a history of abuse, including violence at home and at school, sexual exploitation, drug addiction and poverty.

“They need care and support such as drug rehabilitation and family counselling, rather than punishment in a criminal justice system designed for adults,” she said.

Myanmar enacted a Child Law in 1993, two years after it became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Child Law sets the age of criminal responsibility at seven. It also states that a child under 12 who can prove no understanding of the consequences of an offence shall be acquitted.

U Htin Zaw, a director of the Supreme Court, told the workshop that special juvenile courts had been established in Yangon and Mandalay.

U Htin Zaw said all juveniles found guilty of criminal offences other than those for which the maximum penalty is death or life imprisonment may be placed on probation of discharged conditionally or absolutely.

A child who commits an offence that carries the death penalty will be sentenced to up to seven years in jail, he said.

U Htin Zaw said 1386 young offenders appeared before the courts in 2003, of whom five received jail terms, 143 were fined and 159 were discharged or acquitted.

The rest received warnings, were entrusted to the care of parents or guardians or sent to training centres, he said.

The Department of Social Welfare runs eight training centres that provide education, vocational training, counselling and reintegration programs for children in need of special protection, including those who have broken the law.

The department’s deputy director, U Sein Win, said the programs include meetings at the centres with parents or guardians to make it easier for children to reintegrate in society after they are released.

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