Strengthening Children’s Rights Guarantees in Ukraine.

An investigator, prosecutor, or a judge should have an opportunity to refer a case for mediation and to apply — as often as possible — other non-custodial sentencing options for minors.

Pavlo Petrenko, Minister of Justice

The government of Ukraine is now working in partnership with USAID’s Nove Pravosuddya Justice Sector Reform (New Justice) program, implemented by Chemonics, to improve children’s access to the justice system and to make the justice system more equitable for children. The program builds on the successes and partnerships of USAID’s Fair, Accountable, Independent, and Responsible (FAIR) Judiciary Program (2011-2016). With Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s passing of the National Human Rights Strategy in August 2015, the country aimed to align its juvenile justice system with international standards and introduced measures that would help resocialize and rehabilitate convicted juveniles.

The Cabinet of Ministers later developed and approved the Action Plan for Implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy. This plan calls for improvements in numerous areas, such as adopting a law on juvenile justice; launching special training programs for professionals who work with children; ensuring the child’s best-interest principle is implemented in court processes; and encouraging judges to use more available sentencing options for children, making sure to give teens the opportunity to benefit from resocialization and rehabilitation programs. The New Justice program supports these goals and assists key stakeholders in implementing the National Human Rights Strategy and its action plan. The project works to increase the level of professional competency of judges and attorneys who deal with juvenile delinquency cases. A critical component is raising awareness of the most appropriate sentencing options and making sure the appropriate governmental agencies are assigned to provide available services to juveniles — both during and after serving time in prison.

In March 2018, the program signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, the Coordination Center for Free Legal Aid, and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The memorandum outlines how these partners will cooperate to apply best practices concerning justice-related issues for children, particularly within the free legal aid system.

The Coordination Center for Free Legal Aid and New Justice are working together to develop a training program for lawyers who represent children before the court, as legal representation for them is mandatory but most juveniles’ families cannot afford to hire a lawyer. New Justice experts, in cooperation with Coordination Center for Free Legal Aid experts, created a draft training curriculum that was successfully piloted in July 2018.

The training was very useful … Specifically, the experience of creating youth courts was very interesting. Now I’m trying to implement it on the level of my community in cooperation with local educational establishments.

Pavlo Parkhomenko, Chief Judge

“During the participation in the pilot training program … I acquired the skills of communicating with minors and the underaged during court hearings and improved the skills in applying the [European Court of Human Rights] case law in this category of cases,” said Defense Lawyer Kateryna Voitenko.

The New Justice program is also building the capacity of Inter-Agency Coordination Council on Justice for Children members through workshops on procedural justice for children’s issues. Topics include alternative sentencing, effective restorative justice and resocialization tools, and finding ways for courts and the community to cooperate to address the needs of juveniles.

“The training was very useful … Specifically, the experience of creating youth courts was very interesting. Now I’m trying to implement it on the level of my community in cooperation with local educational establishments,” said Pavlo Parkhomenko, chief judge for the Bachmach District Court in Chernihiv Oblast.

Over the program’s five-year span, New Justice will work with multiple government agencies and NGOs in Ukraine to change the way children are treated in the justice system. Adequate sentences and additional services will enable youth that have committed crimes to avoid a criminal record, receive an education, and find a job. Government efforts to reform the juvenile justice system are ultimately aimed at creating a safer society, as well as to provide juveniles with opportunities to succeed as productive members of their communities.