DCI – Prevention of delinquency

Defence for Children International

United Nations

Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency – Riyadh Guidelines

The Content of the Guidelines

We already mentioned in the introduction that, to our minds, the United

Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency have three main


1.they are very comprehensive;

2.they promote a pro-active approach of prevention;

3.they consider children to be fully-fledged participants in society.

In analysing these guiding principles, the contents of the Guidelines

themselves will be explained. We discuss these principles separately, though

their interdependence is evident.


The Guidelines deal with almost every social area: the three main

environments in the socialization process (family, school and community); the

mass media; social policy; legislation and Juvenile Justice administration.

General prevention (art. 9) has to consist of “comprehensive

prevention plans at every governmental level” and should include among

others mechanisms for the coordination of efforts between governmental and

non-governmental agencies; continuous monitoring and evaluation; community

involvement through a wide range of services and programmes; interdisciplinary

cooperation; youth participation in prevention policies and processes.

On several occasions, it has been stressed that prevention policies

should be primarily general policies for all young people: “educational and

other opportunities to serve as a supportive framework for the personal

development of

all young persons“.

The chapter on the “socialization processes” is introduced in

article 10: “Emphasis should be placed on preventive policies facilitating

the successful socialization and integration of all children and young

persons, in particular through the family, the community, peer groups,

schools, vocational training and the world of work, as well as through voluntary


The comprehensive character of the Riyadh Guidelines is also interesting

because of the link it suggests with the purpose of the UN Convention on the

Rights of the Child (1989). Comprehensiveness is, there again, one of the main

features. The common aim is to improve the overall situation of children.

Moreover, the Guidelines also stress the importance of such policies in crime


Pro-active approach

Prevention, as expressed in the Guidelines, has to focus on upgrading

the quality of life, the overall well-being, and not merely on the immediate

restriction of well-defined but partial problems.

The aim should thus be not just the prevention of ?negative’ situations

(a defensive approach) but rather the promotion of the social potential (an

offensive approach).

The comprehensive character is of course an important expression of that

pro-active approach of prevention. More concrete examples can be found in

article 6: “Community-based services should be developed Formal agencies

of social control should be utilized only as a last resort”. As juvenile

justice systems are mostly part of the formal social control system, prevention

cannot be limited to efforts within that juvenile justice system as such.

Prevention is much more than re-acting to juvenile delinquency !

Article 2 reflects the same approach: “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 early childhood”. It should be mentioned that, although there was a

certain discussion on the topic, the Guidelines do not specify what the terms

child, adolescents, youth, etc. stand for. Perhaps, in accordance with the UN

Convention on the Rights of the Child, human beings huntill 18 years of age can

be considered to be the first target group of the Guidelines.

The pro-active approach is also present in the different topics the

educational systems should devote attention to (art. 21): e.g. “teaching

basic values and developing respect for the child’s own culture, for the social

values of the country in which the child is living, for civilizations different

from the child’s own and for human rights and fundamental freedoms

Promotion of human rights is the best tool for “peace”

keeping; it was already stated in the first paragraphs of the United Nations

Charter (1945). “Young persons and their families should be informed about

the law and their rights and responsibilities, as well as the universal value

system, including United Nations instruments” (art. 23).

And what about the mass media? “The mass media should ensure that

young persons have access to information from a diversity of national and

international sources” (art. 40). “The mass media should portray the

positive contributions of young people to society” (art. 41). “Information

on services, facilities and opportunities for young persons should be

disseminated” (art. 42).

Articles 52 and 57 should be mentioned in particular. Article 52: “Specific

laws and procedures should be enacted and applied to promote and to protect the

rights of all young persons”. Article 57: “Consideration should be

given to establishing an office of ombudsman or similar independent organ, to

ensure that the status, rights and interests of young persons are upheld”.

Here again the link with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is very

clear. At the same time these articles summarize, through the (human) rights

concept, the structural approach on which pro-active handling and thinking is

based. A structural approach of social reality tends toemphasise the parallelism

between values, standards and patterns as the basis of a society on the one

hand, and their expression in social structures, in the institutions of society

and in inter-human behaviour and relationships, on the other. Here, the analyses

of social problems (problems related to inter-human behaviour and relationships)

are not aimed at specification; they can emphasise the existence of a common

denominator; they are aimed at generalisation. Within this context, prevention

is said to modify the structure of a society and the values of a culture. As a

result of the structural approach of social reality, the promotion of the legal

status of children (i.e. the recognition of their legal capacity Cfr. children’s

rights) and the multiplication of their chances of self-determination and of

participation in democratic decision-making have become main centres of


The issue of participation will lead us to the third guiding principle

of the Riyadh Guidelines.

However, it is important to remark that the Guidelines also deal with

?special’ situations and ?special’ groups of people. Yet, only after having

stressed the general approach first, and only if this would not be successful or

satisfactory, a special approach should still remain possible.

Even delinquents are in the first place human beings, citizens.

For example, after having explained the challenges of the educational

system in general, article 24 states: “Particular attention should

be extended to young persons who are at social risk, utilizing specialized

programmes and educational materials”. Article 30 provides: “Special

assistance should be given to students who find it difficult to comply with

attendance codes and to drop-outs”.

Article 38 states: “Government agencies should take special

responsibility and provide necessary services for homeless children or

street-children; information about local facilities, accommodation, employment

and other forms and sources of help should be made readily available to young

persons”. Other particular situations considered in the Guidelines are, for

example, child abuse (art. 53, art. 49); demeaning and degrading presentations

in the mass media (art. 43); drug abuse (art. 44, art. 45, art. 59).

Article 58 deals with the important issue of training. It stresses that “Law

enforcement and other relevant personnel, of both sexes, should be trained to

respond to the special needs of young persons and should be familiar with and

use, to the maximum extent possible, programmes and referral possibilities for

the diversion of young persons from the justice system”.


Western history shows that children have not always been considered in

the same way. Cross-cultural research can teach us a lot about different images

of the child,. The present prevalent opinion, especially in Western countries,

is that children belong to a ?separate social category’, the ?not-yet-beings’.

Over the last decades, however, this image of the child has been turned

into a topic of real discussion for a variety of reasons. However, despite the

Children rights’ movement for saving children, itself as a result of the

currently dominant child image, the situation of the world’s children has not

improved that much. On the positive side, people stress among others the

ontological principle that the child is in the first place a human being and not

an object.

This discussion takes place in almost all social and legal areas where

the child is involved. One of the trends expresses an increased respect for the

fully-fledged social and legal position of the child: the child as a

fully-fledged participant in society. The Riyadh Guidelines are very good

examples of how this particular trend can be reflected in rules.

Article 3 (Fundamental Principles) starts with the statement that “A

child-centred orientation should be pursued. Young persons should have an active

role and partnership within society and should not be considered mere objects of

socialization or control”.

It is impossible to mention all stipulations which go in the same

direction. We limit ourselves to the most challenging examples, such as article

10, which is essential for all areas of socialisation: “Due respect should

be given to the proper personal development of children and young persons, and

they should be accepted as full and equal partners in socialization and

integration processes”.

Or article 31 which states: “School policies should be fair and

equitable, and students should be represented in school policy, including policy

on discipline and decision-making”.

A last example is taken from the chapter on social policy: “young

persons should be involved in formulation and implementation of prevention


Perhaps these different examples appear to be very evident. However,

considerations about children as fully-fledged participants are rather new in

the legislation process, especially within the context of prevention of juvenile


The Impact of the


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