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International Perspective on the Rights of Juvenile Offenders or "Children Living in Exceptionally Difficult Conditions"

NCJ Number
Substance Use & Misuse Volume: 38 Issue: 10 Dated: 2003 Pages: 1531-1538
Genevieve Monahan Ph.D.
Date Published
8 pages
This article reviews the international rights of detained and incarcerated youth outlined in a variety of United Nations documents.
Those working in substance abuse prevention and treatment in collaboration with criminal justice programs are likely to be unaware of the United Nations policies protecting the human rights of juvenile offenders worldwide. International policies are only as effective as governments agreement to abide by them. But they can be powerful advocacy tools and those working to improve the health and well-being of youth should be aware of them. The Beijing Rules clearly identify incarcerated youth as wards of the court and the court is deemed responsible for their health and well being. The Riyadh Guidelines emphasize that the primary aim of juvenile justice systems and crime prevention strategies should be rehabilitative in nature and aimed at promoting the full capacity of youth to become productive, healthy adults as opposed to the protection of society. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty (JDL Rules) affirmed the rights of detained and incarcerated youth to a comprehensive assessment of their physical and mental health needs, including drug and alcohol abuse. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a document that affirms the need to consider rehabilitation over incarceration and other punitive methods in dealing with youth. The document also includes health promotion and prevention services; full spiritual, moral, and social development; the importance of families; safeguarding the rights of children with special needs; affirming the right of all children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to receive treatment; and the right to have survival needs met. Under the Convention inhumane treatment of young offenders is a violation of governments’ obligations. Capital punishment and life imprisonment without possibility of release cannot be imposed for offenses committed by persons less than 18 years of age. The United Nations monitors the progress of nations in adhering to the Convention’s principles, including efforts to reform the criminal justice systems’ treatment of youthful offenders.