13 June 2003

UNICRI and the Italian Government in Defence of Children's Rights in Angola

VIENNA, 13 June (UN Information Service) -- A Juvenile Court will be inaugurated in Angola on 16 June in the framework of the International Day of African Children. The Court was set up by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), in collaboration with local institutions and with the financial support of the Italian Government.

The inaugural ceremony will be attended by Paulo Tjipilica, the Angolan Minister of Justice, Alfredo Bastianelli, the Italian Ambassador in Angola, Livia Pomodoro, the President of the Tribunal for Minors in Milan, and Alberto Bradanini, UNICRI Director.

This will be an important landmark for the country, which has just emerged from almost thirty years of civil war, a conflict whose devastations have impacted particularly hard on children.

Ninety thousand children are disabled in Angola, of these 13,000 children were handicapped as a result of the strife. In addition, there are 750,000 war orphans.

It has been estimated that over 100,000 children live far away from their families or communities of origin, 80 per cent of whom do not have access to education. Many of them are street children who are exposed to sexual exploitation, violence and forced labour. Currently 4,000 of these children have been registered in UNICRI's four rehabilitation /reintegration centres.

Alberto Bradanini, UNICRI Director, emphasizes how war has altered the country's traditional social system, which used to be based on ancient traditional norms and customs and on the community elders' judgments. These community-type mechanisms guaranteed children protection.

Another mechanism safeguarding children, the juvenile justice system, ceased to function a long time ago. This development also left children vulnerable, and meant that those in conflict with the law were tried by ordinary courts and kept in normal prisons alongside adults.

The project launched by UNICRI has restored the country's judicial practices and its traditional system based on reconciliation, while also strengthening the institutional and administrative framework of the juvenile justice system, and making the juvenile courts operational.  The project introduced pilot activities aimed at integrating children into the social system, as well as micro-credit schemes.

UNICRI is in charge of implementing the institution-building component, while two Italian NGOs, the International Centre for Education and Development and International Volunteers for Development, are responsible for implementing the social component.

The programme was launched in 2001 and foresees, among other activities, training courses for magistrates, lawyers, law-enforcement officers, educators and psychologists. It also envisages the reintegration of children by helping them return to their families, or by placing them in care centres. Committees for children's rights have been promoted, as well as a national observation centre monitoring the situation of the children in the country.

The Juvenile Court itself will start by dealing with 400 pending cases involving minors.

Patient and carefully-planned assistance policies are essential in order to guarantee development in African countries.

The UNICRI project, which aims at protecting a particularly vulnerable category, namely children, proves that much work still needs to be done to promote and defend basic human rights.

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