DCI – Prevention of delinquency

Defence for Children International

United Nations

Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency – Riyadh Guidelines

The origins

Since 1955, the United Nations have organised a congress on Crime

Prevention and Treatment of Offenders every five years, bringing together

representatives of the world’s national Governments, specialists in crime

prevention and criminal justice, scholars of international repute and members of

the NGOs concerned. The aim of these meetings has been to discuss problems,

share professional experiences and seek viable solutions to crime. Their

recommendations are intended to have an impact on the legislative bodies of the

United Nations and on national and local Governments.

Juvenile delinquency and its prevention have been items on the agenda of

nearly all United Nations Congresses on Crime Prevention and Treatment of


The discussion on juvenile crime prevention even attracted the largest

number of participants at the first congress (Geneva, 1955). Juvenile

delinquency was treated as a broad category, comprising problems relating to

youthful offenders but also to abandoned, orphaned and maladjusted minors. The

second congress (London, 1960) already recommended limiting the concept of

juvenile delinquency to violations of criminal law, excluding vaguely

anti-social behaviour or rebellious attitudes which are widely associated with

the process of growing up.

We will find this restricted approach again in the Riyadh Guidelines.

Article 56, for instance, states “Any conduct not considered an offence or

penalized if committed by an adult should not be considered an offence or

penalized if committed by a young person”.

The sixth congress (Caracas, 1980) debated the theme of ?Crime

prevention and quality of life’. This congress was important not only because of

its pro-active approach of prevention but also because of the impetus it gave

towards more “binding” engagements in dealing with juvenile crime.

The provision of social justice for all children was strongly

emphasised as a factor of prevention.

Indeed, prevention was considered to be more than just tackling negative

situations, but to be rather the promotion of welfare and well-being. The Riyadh

Guidelines will be a concrete step in this direction. Article 2 for instance

says: “Prevention of juvenile delinquency requires efforts by the entire

society to ensure the harmonious development of adolescents, with respect for

and promotion of their personality from their early childhood”.

Although the topic of juvenile delinquency had been discussed throughout

the UN Congresses on Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders, only in 1980

(Caracas) came the decision to materialise this attention in concrete

recommendations. In 1985 (Milano) the so-called Beijing Rules were adopted: the

Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice. In 1990

(Havana) two complementary instruments were accepted.

The fact that the interest in the legal protection of children has begun

to increase only recently, can certainly help explain why the UN recommendations

in this field too are of recent date.

The content of the