Today, children and young people are exposed to exploitation, abuse and delinquency at an increasing rate. The reasons behind victimization and juvenile delinquency are many and complex. Growing levels of poverty and the consequences of wars, including social disruption, dysfunctional families and exposure to crime, are risk factors for delinquency. Insecurity due to unstable social environments increases vulnerability, and young people with poorly developed social skills are less able to protect themselves against the negative influences of a peer group. It is estimated that the overwhelming majority of those who participate in violence against young people in developed countries are about the same age and sex as their victims.
Millions of children and young people around the world do not benefit from the protection afforded by juvenile justice standards or preventive measures. Consequences of this lack of protection include illegal detention, minors incarcerated with adult detainees and a lack of capacity within the judicial and social systems to provide rapid intervention or trial for juvenile offenders. The best interest of the child is not established expressly in the Constitution of many countries nor is it directly expressed in ordinary legislation. Many countries do not have an organized system for gathering data on children and youth at risk or in conflict with the law. Programmes are needed to strengthen young people and minors' protection and development to help prevent and protect vulnerable juveniles.
Countries with economies in transition have witnessed a dramatic rise in delinquency rates. Most children and young people in conflict with the law have committed minor crimes or such minor offences as vagrancy, truancy, begging or alcohol use.
Since its establishment more than 40 years ago, UNICRI has contributed to the establishment of a reliable base of knowledge and information on social problems involving juvenile delinquency and adult criminality. As for its mandate, the Institute identifies appropriate strategies, policies and instruments for the prevention and control of this growing problem as well as to contribute to socioeconomic development and to promote the protection of all human rights.
UNICRI's aim for the programmes in the field of youth and minors' protection is to promote the rights of minors at risk or in conflict with the law, enhance the capacities of relevant institutions and grass-root organisations, and strengthen the juvenile justice systems.
The Institute's strategy is founded on the belief that the protection of the rights of juveniles, especially of those who are in conflict with the law, is a key element for development, reconciliation and reconstruction processes in the countries in which the Institute operates. These objectives are carried out in a holistic manner. The methods used are applied research, legal and technical assistance, advanced training, social activities and awareness campaigns. UNICRI's programmes combine institutional capacity-building and social activities. The Institute works in strict cooperation with local, national and international organizations, both governmental and non-governmental with the aim of supporting countries making the best use of international expertise and best practices, to set up appropriate structures and institutions The programmes are carried out worldwide with a special focus on countries in transition.
The Institute recently became a Member of the Interagency Panel on Juvenile Justice (formerly known as the Inter-Agency Coordination Panel on Juvenile Justice), created by ECOSOC resolution 1997/30 that aims at coordinating international technical advice and assistance in juvenile justice provided by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations under the guidance of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
At UNICRI, we believe our future lies with the youth, and that it depends on the assistance of minors and young people in achieving their rights. We are fully committed to support governments in achieving this crucial goal.