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Children's rights in dire need of attention - UNICEF

[Iraq] Iraqi children in Baghdad. IRIN
The daily challenges facing Iraqi children is making life tough.
The poor state of children's rights in Iraq is due to the insecure environment in the country and a lack of law and order, according to the UN's children's fund (UNICEF). "All kinds of social protection mechanisms have collapsed," Ghassan Khalil, UNICEF's child protection officer, told IRIN on Wednesday from the capital of Jordan, Amman, noting that the lack of security is violating almost all children's rights, including that to life and development. His comments came a day after the UN agency completed a workshop in Amman, focusing on international standards on juvenile justice, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Beijing Rules, the Riyadh Guidelines and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. They were shared with five Iraqi Ministries (Justice, Labour and Social Affairs, Interior, Human Rights and Women's Affairs) and representatives of the Iraqi Bar Association (IBA) and the Iraqi Teachers' Association. "We were regularly receiving information about juveniles being deprived of their liberty and not being granted the rights they should be, according to international standards," Khalil said. The three-day workshop resulted in an action plan with specific recommendations for each governmental body. UNICEF, together with the Ministry of Justice, agreed on many issues, such as reviewing and updating the Iraqi Juvenile Care Law, in force since 1983, and ensuring the right of every child to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, through appropriate practices and mechanisms. In addition, UNICEF will provide capacity building activities for juvenile judges to update them on the related international standards. With the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs it was agreed to undertake training courses and capacity building activities for a certain number of social workers dealing with juvenile issues, in addition to the re-establishment and activation of the Iraqi Juvenile Care Council, a body that is responsible for policies related to juvenile protection. "Many ministries have mandates covering juvenile justice. The Iraqi cabinet will now have a common document to refer to on juvenile justice issues," Khalil stressed, adding that this was the main technical assistance from UNICEF this year in the area of juvenile justice. The IBA, an organisation aiming at promoting the rule of law, asked for many workshops to train Iraqi lawyers on juvenile justice issues. The UNICEF official explained that the first training session could involve a group of up to 100 lawyers participating in five workshops, focused on ensuring that the right to legal assistance is provided to children in conflict with the law. Additionally, UNICEF's Iraq child protection team, together with other workshop participants, including the Iraqi minister of human rights, Bakhtiar Ameen, agreed that the action plan should be the initiation of a national strategy on juvenile justice in the country. "There was a suggestion to submit this paper to the Iraqi council of ministries and to reactivate the Iraqi Juvenile Care Law," Khalil explained, adding that there would also be training to reactivate police units for juveniles, created in 1983 but not effective so far. After decades of isolation, Iraqi institutions need to be updated on how to deal with children's issues. "The ministries need a lot of capacity building," the UNICEF official said. He explained that Iraqi ministries were committed to ensuring a minimum level of protection for children. "But this will take some time, however, and Iraqi ministries are showing great commitment and dedication." Another issue of concern was how civil society in Iraq was dealing with such issues as they were not present under the former regime. According to Khalil, NGOs established after Saddam's fall are in need of capacity building and orientation in the area of child rights and juvenile justice and on how to establish community-based protection mechanisms to ensure their rights. Regarding the organisation's involvement after the meeting, he remarked: "UNICEF will be involved in many recommendations that came out of the workshop, training activities of juvenile police, juvenile judges, and social workers and we will support the re-activation of the Iraqi Juvenile Care Law and the review and update of the Iraqi Juvenile Court Law." UNICEF will also assist the Iraqi counterparts in identifying other contributors from the UN system and the international community for the implementation of the plan of action that came out of the workshop.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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