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Child Protection Law changes to strengthen child justice

Update: September, 23/2013 - 09:34
The revised law on Child Protection, Care and Education needs to make clear what the responsibilities of ministries and agencies are when it comes to implementing child-friendly justice.— Photo giadinh

HAI PHONG (VNS)—The revised law on Child Protection, Care and Education needs to make clear what the responsibilities of ministries and agencies are when it comes to implementing child-friendly justice, said director of Department for Child Protection and Care Nguyen Hai Huu at a workshop in Hai Phong last week.

The law has been in effect for eight years but has significant shortcomings. The department, under the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs in partnership with other relevant agencies, is drafting several amendments to fix these issues.

Nguyen Van Tung, an official from the Institute of Judicial Science under the Supreme People's Court, said that the current law on criminal procedure focused on children's obligations rather than their rights.

"In many cases, witnesses don't come to court because they feel their safety, health or assets are threatened. They don't want to get into trouble because of something they're not directly involved in," he said.

The absence of witnesses was a major factor delaying trials, he said, which was particularly serious for children because long-lasting trials could significantly affect children's psychological development.

He told the story of a nine-year old child who was a witness in the rape of her aunt. That trial lasted for nine years, meaning the child had to talk about the fearful experience many times from the age of 9 to 18. When the trial finished, she knew a lot about court procedures but had also suffered a lot of mental anguish.

Huu said that while laws on civil and criminal procedure had many provisions concerning child-related investigations, interrogation and trials, child-friendly justice did not receive much attention.

The compiling board plans to design a separate chapter on child-friendly justice with specific regulations for questioning child defendants and protecting child victims and witnesses.

"Regulations are needed to get police, prosecutors and judges to specialise in child-related issues as well as to ensure the rights of the children themselves: the right to privacy, to be treated respectfully, to participate in the justice system and to be assisted by parents or an attorney," he said.

Special regulations will go into effect for child defendants, victims and witnesses that will minimise the amount of questioning, require friendly communication during questioning and minimise contact between children and defendants.

Information about child victims and witnesses in child abuse cases is often leaked, making it hard for them to get back to normal lives. Ensuring their right to privacy and restricting media reports about them would help their recovery, Tung said.

Children are frequently victims of exploitation. About 7,000 girls less than 16 years old work as sex workers across the country, accounting for 15 per cent of total sex workers, according to the Department for Social Evils Prevention under MOLISA. A report by the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Children and Youth revealed that child abuse and violence against children increased in quality and seriousness.

The workshop in Hai Phong was part of a $7.5-million project funded by the Australian Agency for International Development to combat the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism in the Mekong sub-region. — VNS

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