JUSTICE > AZERBAIJAN
Giving troubled teenagers a second chance Research conducted in 2006 showed around 600 to 700 www.enpi-info.eu adolescents in Azerbaijan were being taken to court each year for committing crimes. Many of them were convicted of minor offences and served their sentence in a closed ‘colony’ for juvenile offenders. Funded by the EU and supported by UNICEF, a Juvenile Justice Initiative has introduced alternative education and rehabilitation systems for youths in trouble with the law. They call it ‘family therapy’, because everybody needs to join in: teenagers, their parents, their schools, as well as experts. An EU Neighbourhood Info Centre journalist visited the Centre for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation and Legal Support in Juvenile Cases and sends this report. Text by Shain Hadjiev Pictures by AFP © EU Neighbourhood INFO CENTRE
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BAKU – Should a 13-year-old be sent to a penal colony if he breaks the law? Chances are that if that happens, he might become a real criminal by the age of 20. Today, in Azerbaijan, the view that alternative education and rehabilitation can be much more effective for teenagers than criminal punishment is proving a popular one. Supported by UNICEF and funded by the EU, work on implementing a Juvenile Justice Initiative has been underway in Azerbaijan since 2007. One of the organisations engaged in this task is the NGO ‘Centre for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation and Legal Support in Juvenile Cases’. According to the head of the NGO, Kyamalya Ashumova, , the idea of EU Neighbourhood Info Centre establishing the Centre was based on a desire to help teenagers who Feature no. 114 had once gone wrong, as well as rehabilitating them while offering an This is a series of features on alternative to custodial sentences, served in closed juvenile corrective projects funded by the EU Regional Programme, prepared by journalists facilities, or ‘colonies’. and photographers on the ground “Based on our research in 2006, around 600-700 adolescents were be- or the EU Neighbourhood Info Centre. ing taken to court for committing crimes every year. Many of them were © 2014 EU Neighbourhood Info Centre convicted of minor offences” she says. “This meant that in the colonies,
Giving troubled teenagers a second chance
EU Neighbourhood Info Centre – Feature no. 114
adolescents came under the influence of those who had already committed grave crimes”. In the last few years, with the work that the Centre has done in the capital city Baku, the situation has markedly improved. “Law enforcement agencies have realised that alternative education of teenagers is much more effective than a custodial sentence. So far, this kind of support has been provided for 360 teenagers. In 97% of cases, we were able to help them out,” says Ashumova.
“Family therapy” N Child psychologist Lala Mardzhanova.
“Alternative education of teenagers is much more effective than a custodial sentence”
The Centre works closely with the families of the youths and the police. Teenage offenders take a course lasting four to six months, but the Centre keeps in touch with them until they turn 18. Children aged from 10 to 18 are accepted, but in exceptional cases they can even be just eight or nine. According to experts, sometimes they have to overcome the indifference and formal attitude of the police, who are ready to send the offending minors to the penal colony and do not believe they can be reformed by psychologists. This happened, for instance, with nine-year-old Anar, who called the police to say he had allegedly planted a bomb in the local hospital. He was about to be sent off to Guba colony, when the Centre staff managed to prevent this by taking him under their custody. “If a kid gets involved with older criminals and spends some time with them, it is much more difficult to return him to normal life,” said Rena Allahverdieva, a psychologist at the Centre. “Talking to Anar, we realised that the main cause for his behaviour was his alienation from his parents. I am sure that the main reason for inadequate behavior of children is often a deficit in parents’ care. We are trying to compensate for this deficit,” she said. In 2006, there were 75 underage convicts in the Baku juvenile colony, whereas today there are only 29. Now, when detaining adolescents, the Ministry of Interior has authorised all its divisions to contact the Centre for Rehabilitation first, rather than send them directly to the colony. “Our primary task is to make a psychological diagnosis, that is, to establish the cause of the problem. We try to investigate what has happened together with the teenagers, their parents and their schools. If we come to mutual understanding, we continue to work on rehabilitation together. We call this ‘family therapy’. Without personal contact and mutual trust, it is impossible to help teenagers to avoid conflict with law, their families and themselves,” Allahverdieva said. The staff at the Centre note an alarming tendency in the growing number of girls referred to them. In 2012, 15-year-old Aidan struck a man in the street with a knife: he had been trying to chat her up. She was also mentally unstable due to family issues. The Centre’s psychologist and staff were allowed access to the investigation and met with the victim. This helped prevent Aidan from receiving a three-year sentence. Strange as it may seem, it is more difficult to help girls than boys. This can be explained by gender characteristics, although the perception among many people is that girls are easier to persuade. However, in practice it is rather different, as girls account for 75 to 80% of unsuccessful rehabilitation cases.
Poverty at the root of many problems Case analysis of problematic adolescents shows that a difficult social and economic situation in the family is often the reason why children are forced out onto the streets and from there into the criminal world.
“Without personal contact and mutual trust, it is impossible to help teenagers to avoid conflict with law, their families and themselves”
N Teenager working in the Social Rehabilitation Centre for Young Juvenile Offenders.
EU Neighbourhood Info Centre – Feature no. 114
N Children playing with puzzles at the Social Rehabilitation Centre for Young Juvenile Offenders.
Giving troubled teenagers a second chance
Ashumova told the story of a boy she was particularly proud of.. In 2008, at the age of 15, this boy committed a theft and was detained. He came from a very poor family, his father was disabled and his mother working as a cleaner. “He spent four months with us and after completing the course said he wanted to work and help his parents,” said Ashumova. “At the same time, he started helping us at the Centre as a volunteer, supporting other kids younger than him. At his age, he was allowed to work only four to five hours a day and we found him a job as a courier.” The fact that he had the mindset and opportunity to earn an honest living became an important motivating factor for the teenager. “He went on to work at a restaurant and today he is 18 and he is delivering orders on his motorbike. He has finished school, got a driving licence and is supporting his parents. He wants to become a chef at the same restaurant,” says the Centre Director. Experts in the field of justice stress the necessity of establishing centres for adolescent psychological and social rehabilitation even in the rural regions of Azerbaijan. Today, such a centre exists only in Baku, and youngsters from other regions have to bear criminal liability for minor offences without having access to psychological support.
“I am sure that the main reason for inadequate behavior of children is often a deficit in parents’ care. We are trying to compensate for this deficit”
Juvenile Justice Programme The Juvenile Justice Initiative has introduced alternative education and rehabilitation systems for youths in trouble with the law. www.unicef.org/azerbaijan/protection_10024.html Supported by UNICEF and funded by the EU, work on implementing a Juvenile Justice Initiative has been underway in Azerbaijan since 2007. The objective of the project is to support teenagers who have gone wrong and to rehabilitate them, while offering an alternative to custodial sentences served in ‘colonies’. The project is based on the idea that alternative education is much more effective than a custodial sentence. To find out more Juvenile Justice – a story www.unicef.org/azerbaijan/media_15565.html EU Neighbourhood Info Centre Thematic portal: justice, freedom & security www.enpi-info.eu/themeeast.php?subject=1
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