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Greece: Τerre des hommes paves the way for a child-friendly justice system with children themselves as agents of change

2020-08-14

Greece: Τerre des hommes paves the way for a child-friendly justice system with children themselves as agents of change

Two projects of the child protection organisation promote the innovative approach of restorative justice for children in Greece – both for children victims and those in conflict with the law.

Every day, we witness in the news incidents involving children – either as victims or offenders. However, very little is known about what happens to these children when the case in which they are involved reaches the justice system. What are their rights and how are they upheld? How are their needs assessed and addressed? How child-friendly is the system that will decide about their level of responsibility? And what can their expectations be in relation to their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration?

The international child protection organisation Terre des hommes (Tdh) is currently implementing two projects in Europe, among them in Greece, to promote access to justice for children, both funded by the European Union. The i-RESTORE project is implemented over two years in three European countries – Albania, Greece and Romania, with the support of expert partners from Belgium and the Netherlands. It aims to strengthen the application of restorative justice in cases involving child victims. Emphasis is placed on the specific benefits of restorative practices for child victims, when main conditions and requirements of protection have been ensured.

FOCUS is a two-year project implemented in cooperation with partners in five European countries. It seeks to highlight the importance of conducting an individual and multidisciplinary assessment of the needs of children involved in criminal proceedings, at the earliest stage of the process, in order to ensure the most appropriate and beneficial management of their case. The individualised approach and management of each case, either for a victim or an offender, is essential for the effective support and protection of the child. However, despite this general assumption, specific procedures for the multidisciplinary assessment of the needs children are often lacking in practice. The aim of FOCUS is to review the current situation in Greece and other project countries, to properly train professionals to work with children and to establish practical ways to strengthen and systematise the assessment process of child victims and child offenders, as well as to identify good practices that could be applied nationally and internationally.

Much is said but little is known about what the "restorative justice" approach means. Unlike most systems that focus on punishing the offender, restorative justice promotes a judicial system that focuses primarily on repairing the harm done to the victim and, at the same time, helping the offender assume responsibility for the committed acts. "The benefits of restorative justice are manifold", explains Leda Avgousti, deputy director for Tdh in Greece. "The child victim has the opportunity to play an active role in the judicial process, to be heard and to regain control of the situation. At the same time, restorative procedures are always applied once basic conditions of protection and support for the victim have been ensured whereas the child offender does not just face a punishment for their  deed, but is called to take responsibility for their actions, to face the consequences and to take active steps to repair the damage."

Terre des hommes has a long history of working in the field of juvenile justice in many countries around the world. With 39 "Access to Justice" projects in 22 countries, supporting 59,700 children and young people in 2019, Tdh has established a leading position in promoting a restorative approach. More specifically, its actions focus on the promotion of non-custodial sentences for children, the improvement of detention conditions, as well as delinquency prevention and reintegration services. Since 2009, Tdh has been also co-organising the World Congress on Justice for Children, that brings together the key players in juvenile justice and child rights at the international level to promote dialogue and cooperation on current topics of child protection,

In Greece, Tdh has started its activity in this field last year with FOCUS and i-RESTORE. Although there are no updated data for the country, 1358 children were recorded as victims in 2018 (source: "Smile of the Child") and 6215 children in conflict with law in 2017 (Hellenic Statistical Authority).

One pioneering element of these two projects is that the children themselves participate and make their voices heard, even shaping the structure and products of the projects. "We set up a Child Advisory Board (CAB) for each project, with 8-9 children aged 15 to 17 years and of different cultural backgrounds, who collaborate with us for the implementation of the projects", explains Dimitra Moustaka, programme coordinator at Tdh Hellas. "More specifically, in i-RESTORE, the CAB holds monthly meetings where their members are trained in issues related to child-friendly justice, restorative justice and children's rights. In the monthly meetings of the FOCUS project, children are educated about their procedural rights and the legal framework of Greece related to the individual assessment of children involved in criminal proceedings. Then, the children will be invited to participate in the design and refinement of all tools and educational materials that will be created within the projects, proposing ideas and changes that they consider important", continues Mrs Moustaka.

"My goal in life is to help children and young people and to be able to make a difference in their lives. I am very excited to be part of the i-RESTORE Child Advisory Board, as I have never participated in something like this before", says Trinity, a 15-year old girl from South Africa and Greece.

Through participatory methods, Tdh also trains children in public speaking and ways to use media and art to convey a strong message. Finally, the CABs will create advocacy campaigns to inform the general public about children’s rights and how to better protect them.

The children from Greece will also join their voices with the members of the CABs set up in the other countries where the projects are implemented, claiming a better and friendlier justice system for all children. With their two-year participation in the projects, these children will become the voice of all children who call for a justice system that will respect and protect their rights and will listen to their opinion.

"I encourage people to express their thoughts, because your participation and opinion can greatly improve your life. We should not miss such incredible opportunities, especially when you are a young person", shares Bisma, a 16-year old girl from Pakistan.

Terre des hommes, together with its partners, has also recently launched the "Justice with Children" platform that provides information, tools, guidelines and recommendations to professionals working in the field of juvenile justice around the world. Access: https://justicewithchildren.org/.

This article is a translation and adaptation of the news article that was originally published in Greek on the news portal Popaganda.gr, on 27 July 2020.

*The i-RESTORE project is co-funded by the Justice Programme of the European Union; the FOCUS project is co-funded by the Rights, Equality, Citizenship Programme of the European Union.