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Support to the Juvenile Justice Reform in BiH

The governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) want to reform the juvenile criminal legislation and improve the application of international standards in BiH so that children are better served and protected by the justice system, including the security and social welfare sectors. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) have been conducting a project to this end since 2010.

Strategic Domain:
Democratic Governance, Municipal Services, and Justice
Strategic Partner:
Ministry of Justice of FBiH, Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of BiH, Ministry of Justice of RS, Ministry of Justice of BiH
United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF)
Project implemented in:
Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Brčko District
Zenica-Doboj Canton, Tuzla Canton, Central Bosnia Canton, Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, Canton 10, Sarajevo Canton, Una-Sana Canton
Municipalities (16):
Zenica, Tuzla, Trebinje, Travnik, Prijedor, Mostar, Livno, Kozarska Dubica, Grad Sarajevo, Grad Istočno Sarajevo, Doboj, Čapljina, Brčko distrikt, Bijeljina, Bihać , Banja Luka

Improving conditions for the protection of children and adolescents

Approximately 10% of children in BiH live in socially disadvantaged families, a quarter of them in absolute poverty. Socially disadvantaged children and adolescents living in poverty are exposed to a higher risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of a crime.

The prevention of juvenile offending has so far been given scant consideration. Despite an enabling legislative framework, alternative measures and key child friendly procedures are rarely used. Some of the barriers include lack of coordination amongst sectors and institutions, unclear or burdensome procedures for application of some measures, and lack of financial resources and structures in place to implement measures. The notion of the best interests of the child is not systematically applied in all decisions regarding children, and the right for the child to participate in decisions regarding their care, custody and protection is unevenly implemented.

For the last five years Bosnian juvenile criminal law has been undergoing a process of reform with the aim of establishing the necessary legal framework for a justice system adapted to the specific needs of children and adolescents. The Bosnian government has given priority to the creation of a juvenile justice system based on international standards – also in view of its future candidature for membership of the EU.

Priority to strengthening preventive measures

The overall goal of J4C is for juveniles in conflict with the law, children at-risk, child victims/witnesses and children in civil proceedings to be better served and protected by the BiH justice system, including the security and social welfare sectors.

In this phase the project aims to improve protection for all children and adolescents in the justice system through strengthening child friendly procedures and preventive measures. The social reintegration of juvenile offenders is also to be improved. In the long term, it is expected that prevention programmes for at risk children, and better treatment of children and juveniles in the justice system will lead to an overall reduction in juvenile offending, and improve children’s and juveniles’ well-being and ability to engage in educational, social and cultural activities in their communities. J4C also supports protection to victims of violence of crime as well as witnesses of a criminal act.

Continuation of specialised training

The provision of further training and public relations are central aspects of the project. About 1,000 professionals, including judges, prosecutors, social workers and police officers, are receiving specialised further training, the purpose of which is to strengthen the knowledge and develop a more positive attitude towards J4C and prevention. At the same time, the public is to be increasingly sensitised to the issue of juvenile criminal justice and the reforms under way in juvenile law.

Building on successes and promoting the protection of children and young people

In the first phase, from 2009 to 2013, the focus was on improving the legal framework for juveniles in conflict with the law. For example, at 16 police stations child-friendly rooms were set up in which children and young adults could be interviewed under conditions appropriate for their age. More than 1,800 children, parents and teachers were involved in school-based programmes to raise awareness and prevent violence and juvenile offences. On the local level, cross-sector municipal coordination mechanisms were established in nine selected locations to assess needs, develop municipal action plans on justice for children with a focus on diversion, alternative measures and the prevention of juvenile offending. Over 1400 professionals have increased their technical knowledge in the area of justice for children, international standards, application of alternative and prevention measures, ethical reporting, and child friendly procedures. A KAP (Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices) Survey showed that the communication activities had some positive impacts on the way society looks at juvenile justice, shifting from a punitive approach to a reintegration one.

Strengthening alternative and preventive measures has so far proved to be successful and have led to a reduction in juvenile offending in some first phase project locations. Data from three municipalities show that juvenile offending in Tuzla and Capljina has declined by 50% and in Zenica by 16% (as at 2013).