DCI – Prevention of delinquency

Defence for Children International

United Nations

Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency – Riyadh Guidelines

The impact of the Guidelines

It might be interesting to recall once again the role of the UN

Congresses on Crime Prevention and their decisions: on the one hand they are a

forum for an in-depth debate on a universal level about the challenges

experienced in the entire world, and on the other hand the adopted resolutions

should have an impact on international, national and local legislative bodies.

The “moral” impact

The UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency are

certainly challenging for everybody who is concerned with juvenile justice, and

for several reasons.

It is clear that in many countries the present systems for coping with

juvenile crime are discussed. Juvenile delinquency has been questioned as long

as people live together.

The efforts of the United Nations Criminal Justice Branch to establish

universal standards in the field of juvenile justice (prevention, “punishment”,

“imprisonment”) are in this respect very important. They can be very

helpful as starting points for discussions ?on the spot’. Promotion and

distribution of the different texts as a whole (Cfr. compendium) are therefore

very welcome.

The Riyadh Guidelines are, within the framework of criminological

science, probably one of the most advanced proposals.

The concept to separate, at least partially, the prevention efforts from

the illicit behaviour and to link them to a general (social) policy, is quite

new. In this way, the prevention of juvenile delinquency becomes a (side) effect

of a general policy, aimed at promoting overall welfare and well-being.

Juvenile delinquency is not the only, and not even a minor reason for

initiating such a policy. In a just society, respect for the human rights of

every individual, are all the more decisive. Not just delinquents should be

focused, but all citizens, and in that way also delinquents.

Respect for the UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency

could mean a small step towards a fair, equitable, respectful society, also

because of the challenging attitude towards children. To consider children as a

fully-fledged part of society responds to the aims of the Children’s Rights


Taking into consideration the enthusiastic reactions on the UN

Convention on the Rights of the Child (168 ratifications in less than 5 years),

these Guidelines, adopted one year after the Convention, might share this

success and bring about a certain social change.

The legal impact

The Guidelines, as the two other UN instruments on juvenile justice, are

soft law, thus not directly binding for international, national and local

legislative bodies.

However, the importance of these different texts should not necessarily

be limited to their “moral” impact. Article 7 of the Guidelines says

indeed that “These Guidelines should be interpreted and implemented within

the framework of all United Nations instruments and norms relating to rights,

interests and well-being of all children and young persons, and implemented in

the context of the economic, social and cultural conditions in each Member State”.

All other more binding Human Rights Conventions, for instance, can thus

be helpful in implementing the Riyadh Guidelines. The link with the UN

Convention on the Rights of the Child should be studied in particular, also in

this respect.

It might help to surmount a very important obstacle in the realisation

of the Guidelines: “the economic, social and cultural conditions in each

Member State”, (art. 8) are often an excuse to do nothing.

Article 4 of the UN Convention therefore introduces the supportive

framework of international co-operation.

As the Convention itself is more binding for Member States and as many

of the Guidelines are in their content, in their inspirations and in their

ambitions comparable to many stipulations of that Convention, their realization

can be much more compulsory. The fact that the link with the prevention of

juvenile delinquency is not at all obvious in the Convention is, of course, of

minor importance, as this is also in the Guidelines “rather an excuse”

for promoting a general (social) policy aiming at the biggest possible

well-being of each citizen.


We already mentioned point 8 of the preamble of the Riyadh Guidelines in

our introduction: “The General Assembly requests the Secretary-General to

issue a composite manual on juvenile justice standards” which would contain

the provisions of the three resolutions and a set of full commentaries. Such a

compendium will be very important in the process of informing policy-makers,

juvenile justice professionals and young people themselves throughout the world

about the necessary conditions and quality requirements for a humane and

constructive approach of (problem-) children. In each resolution, the Member

States are called upon to bring the juvenile justice standards to the attention

of all relevant authorities. Here again, a link with the (implementation of) the

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child might be obvious. Article 42 of the

Convention states: “States Parties undertake ?action’ to make the

principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and

active means, to adults and children alike.”

Another important step towards a compulsory implementation can be

realised through the establishment of an Ombudsman for Children. Article 57 of

the Guidelines says: “Consideration should be given to the establishment of

an office of ombudsman or similar independent organ, which would ensure that the

status, rights and interests of young persons are upheld and that proper

reference to available services is made. The ombudsman or other organ designated

would also have to supervise the implementation of the Riyadh Guidelines, the

Beijing Rules and the Rules for the Protection of Juveniles deprived of their

Liberty. The ombudsman or other organ would, at regular intervals, publish a

report on the progress made and on the difficulties encountered in the

implementation of the instruments. Child advocacy services should also be


Establishing an Ombudsman for Children, as a part of child advocacy, is

an important strategy for improving the social position of children. Other

strategies which can already be observed within the ?Children’s Rights Movement’

are child study, i.e. the studies of childhood as a social phenomenon; the

development of networks of people and organisations who aim, mostly for better

(legal) protection of children and not least the self-organisation of children.

The Riyadh Guidelines and each of these strategies are encouraging. We

thoroughly discussed the attention to children’s participation

(Cfr. self-organisation); article 60 tends to promote interdisciplinary

and multidisciplinary interaction and co-ordination (Cfr. the idea of network


Article 57 on the establishment of an office of ombudsman contains

important information on the scope, the possible assignments of such an office

but also on some of the necessary quality requirements which should be met in

order not to devalue the initiative.

Since a children’s ombudsman is concerned with the status, the rights

and the interests of the child, he or she will also have to deal with (but not

exclusively) juvenile justice matters.

A children’s ombudsman has to defend the rights and interests of the

child; to refer children to appropriate (social) services; to supervise the

legal protection of children, as defined in many national and international

(human rights) instruments. The ombudsman, as well as the Member States (Cfr.

preambula, point 12), should also report on (the difficulties encountered in)

the implementation of these instruments. In its articles 44 and 45, the UN

Convention on the Rights of the Child compels each State Party to report on the

measures they have adopted and which give effect to the rights recognized in the

Convention, and on the progress made on the enjoyment of those rights. The

reports will indicate factors and difficulties affecting the degree of

fulfilment of the obligations under the Convention.

There is however an important difference between the reporting by an

ombudsman and the reporting by a State Party. A difference which has to do with

one of the major characteristics of the office of an ombudsman: its

independency. In Norway, for instance, the Children’s Ombudsman is independent

of the legislative power, the judiciary system and the executive power. An

Ombudsman, under these conditions, can give essential (complementary)

information or corrections on the report of the State Party.

Other quality requirements for an ombudsman-office, not mentioned

however in article 57, are: free access to all public and private institutions;

those institutions have the duty to provide the ombudsman with all relevant

information; the ombudsman has the competence to relieve others of their

professional oath of confidentiality, combined with his/her own extended right

to protect sources; the ombudsman can act on his own initiative or at the

request of other people; the office is easily accessible, also for children.

In conclusion

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