Regional Consultation for the UN Study on Violence Against Children
. 5 - 7 July 2005 Ljubljana, Slovenia  
Europe and Central Asia






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UNICEF Feature Story

Cell #106: Bringing justice to institutionalized youth
Update on youth participation and issues at the Regional Consultation on Violence against Children in Europe and central Asia
by C. Schuepp

Milka from Serbia and Katarina from Slovenia, both only 16 years old, are sharing a cell. But they can come and go whenever they want. They are not inmates of cell #106 – they are simply staying in the Celica Youth Hostel in Ljubljana. The girls are part of the youth preparation meeting of the regional consultation on Violence Against Children in Europe & Central Asia, taking place in the Slovenian capital this week.

The Celica (“cell”) used to be a military which has now been converted into a stylish youth hostel. Two years ago, artists turned the cells into dormitories and every room now has a unique look.

Staying in a former prison gives the young people a glimpse of what it means for other youngsters to be behind bars. Katarina says she actually enjoys the hostel, but quickly adds: “You know, it’s no problem for a week. But I could never imagine spending three years or so in here. It’s eight square meters in total and with the bars in front of the window and the door, it’s not a good feeling, I can tell you…”

Asked what she knows about children and teenagers in prison in Slovenia, Katarina adds: “I think their situation is ok. But then… I don’t really know much about this topic. You don’t hear much about it in the media. Therefore, I only assume – and hope – that they are doing fine.”

In fact, violence is still a major issue in prisons throughout Europe and Central Asia and young people are often victims of prison violence. However, the lack of data makes it difficult to assess the extent to which children face institutional violence, but increasing evidence of abuse and reports by child-care organizations are raising concerns that children – doubly vulnerable because they are alone in a strange environment – are clearly at great risk.

Some of the factors that contribute to their increased vulnerability include the fact that young people are often kept in custody with adults - according to the German National Coalition for the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is evidence of threat, blackmail and even rape. The Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee noted that custodial staff have been seen punching, kicking or hitting young people with batons in Croatia. There is also evidence of police officers abusing children and young people in police custody in Albania, France, Georgia, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

This all takes place despite the fact that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child puts governments firmly in charge of protecting children in care and bans the arbitrary imprisonment of children. It also stipulates that children should be treated sensitively and separated from adults in custody. Additionally, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has adopted a recommendation setting out children’s rights in residential institutions, including the right to a non-violent upbringing while the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee (Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) has a mandate to inspect places where young people are detained.

Fortunately, more states are recognizing the problems and undertaking or allowing investigations into conditions and concerns about violence in residential facilities of all kinds. Furthermore, to change the current situation, the participants of the regional consultation for Violence in Europe & Central Asia are coming forward with a number of suggestions. These include a ban on corporal punishment and humiliating treatment in institutions worldwide, ensuring that children are in a position to express concerns or complaints about their treatment without fear of retribution and the development of non-residential alternatives to care and correction placements.

Once these recommendations are made later this week in the Slovenian capital, Katarina and Milka will leave cell #106 at the Celica – because until then, they have a part to play in helping to stop the unjust and inhumane treatment of young people in prison today and in the future...only then will these two teens pack their bags and go back home.