Convention on the Rights of the Child - General comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

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Introduction 

1. The present general comment replaces general comment No. 10 (2007) on children’s rights in juvenile justice. It reflects the developments that have occurred since 2007 as a result of the promulgation of international and regional standards, the Committee’s jurisprudence, 
new knowledge about child and adolescent development, and evidence of effective practices, including those relating to restorative justice. It also reflects concerns such as the trends relating to the minimum age of criminal responsibility and the persistent use of deprivation of liberty. The general comment covers specific issues, such as issues relating to children recruited and used by non-State armed groups, including those designated as terrorist groups, and children in customary, indigenous or other non-State justice systems.  

2. Children differ from adults in their physical and psychological development. Such differences constitute the basis for the recognition of lesser culpability, and for a separate system with a differentiated, individualized approach. Exposure to the criminal justice system has been demonstrated to cause harm to children, limiting their chances of becoming responsible adults. 

3. The Committee acknowledges that preservation of public safety is a legitimate aim of the justice system, including the child justice system. However, States parties should serve this aim subject to their obligations to respect and implement the principles of child justice as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the Convention clearly states in article 40, every child alleged as, accused of or recognized as having infringed criminal law should always be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth. Evidence shows that the prevalence of crime committed by children tends to decrease after the adoption of systems in line with these principles.  

4. The Committee welcomes the many efforts made to establish child justice systems in compliance with the Convention. Those States having provisions that are more conducive to the rights of children than those contained in the Convention and the present general comment are commended and reminded that, in accordance with article 41 of the Convention, they should not take any retrogressive steps. State party reports indicate that many State parties still require significant investment to achieve full compliance with the Convention, 
particularly regarding prevention, early intervention, the development and implementation of diversion measures, a multidisciplinary approach, the minimum age of criminal responsibility and the reduction of deprivation of liberty. The Committee draws States’ 
attention to the report of the Independent Expert leading the United Nations global study on children deprived of their liberty (A/74/136), submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 69/157, which had been initiated by the Committee. 

5.         In the past decade, several declarations and guidelines that promote access to justice and child-friendly justice have been adopted by international and regional bodies. These frameworks cover children in all aspects of the justice systems, including child victims and witnesses of crime, children in welfare proceedings and children before administrative tribunals. These developments, valuable though they are, fall outside of the scope of the present general comment, which is focused on children alleged as, accused of or recognized as having infringed criminal law.  

       II. Objectives and scope  

6. The objectives and scope of the present general comment are: 

(a) To provide a contemporary consideration of the relevant articles and principles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to guide States towards a holistic implementation of child justice systems that promote and protect children’s rights; 

(b) To reiterate the importance of prevention and early intervention, and of protecting children’s rights at all stages of the system; 

(c) To promote key strategies for reducing the especially harmful effects of contact with the criminal justice system, in line with increased knowledge about children’s development, in particular: 

(i) Setting an appropriate minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensuring the appropriate treatment of children on either side of that age; 

(ii) Scaling up the diversion of children away from formal justice processes and to effective programmes;  

(iii) Expanding the use of non-custodial measures to ensure that detention of children is a measure of last resort; 

(iv) Ending the use of corporal punishment, capital punishment and life sentences; 
(v) For the few situations where deprivation of liberty is justified as a last resort, ensuring that its application is for older children only, is strictly time-limited and is subject to regular review; 

(d) To promote the strengthening of systems through improved organization, capacity-building, data collection, evaluation and research;  

(e) To provide guidance on new developments in the field, in particular the recruitment and use of children by non-State armed groups, including those designated as terrorist groups, and children coming into contact with customary, indigenous and non-State 
justice systems. 

Download the attached General Comment No. 24 Child Justics Systems PDF below.