TEHRAN, 19 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Iran and Britain shared ideas on youth sentencing at a United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) workshop in Tehran this month. Representatives from Iran's judiciary, police, social workers and academics met David Padley, a British police inspector and policy advisor to the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales, to discuss ways in which Iran might reduce its youth custody rates.
"One of the general objectives of the workshop has been to discuss how to effectively deal with young people in a community-based setting rather than imprisoning them," said David Padley. "There's been a sharing of areas of common interest. We've been looking at alternatives to prison custody, prevention of and multi-disciplinary responses to youth crime," he said.
Padley said that Iran and Britain both have concerns about youth crime. Iran is now developing rehabilitation programmes for youth offenders as an alternative to custody. Iran is one of only six countries known to have executed juvenile offenders over the past 15 years.
"There is an interest in alternative sentencing for young people and in reviewing the system." said Jan-Pieter Kleijburg, UNICEF's programme officer in Tehran. "This is good, as it means an increase in juvenile courts and correction centres and it promotes community and social work. You are not helping children by locking them up with common criminals."
According to Padley, the Iranian judiciary showed interest in his examples of community-based interventions instead of custodial sentences. During the workshop, a variety of issues were discussed such as extending the powers of the judiciary to impose community-based sentences and a greater role for the police in monitoring child offenders in the community rather than sending them to court.
Padley listed British examples of community sentencing which included ordering the child to attend school by law and 'reparation.' Reparation is when the offender is ordered to carry out a community service or directly makes amends with the victim of the crime.
The workshop also tackled issues related to child sexual abuse, with an emphasis on identifying, investigating and protecting victims. Child sexual abuse is rarely reported in Iran and sharia law demands that there be four witnesses to a girl's claims of abuse, making it difficult to prove in a court of law.
"The mere fact that there are judges, police officers and social workers in the same room is a golden opportunity to understand the problems each of them face and to hear differing points of view," said Mohammad Fayyazi, UNICEF Assistant Project Officer, Child Protection.
Tehran is one of only a few cities in Iran that has a youth prison. According to Parvaneh Ghasemian, a social activist and volunteer worker at Tehran's juvenile jail, 300 boys and 40 girls are incarcerated there, all under the age of 18. Although the average age of inmates is 14 years of age, there are some children as young as six.
"Children from poorer backgrounds who cannot afford court fees are imprisoned for petty offences such as shoplifting, wearing too much make-up or mixing with the opposite sex. What they [the children] need is a good education and they need more freedom - if they had this, we wouldn't even need a prison," said Ghasemian.
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