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provide an alternative approach to juvenile justice in
By Ruth Ansah Ayisi (UNICEF),
9 July 2007.
Just as our interview is about to begin, the telephone rings
and with it vanishes the charming smile that lights up Abdul’s
face. He senses that his mother is on the other end of the line.
Although trying to look composed, the 13-year-old twists his
fingers nervously as he listens to one side of the conversation. The
man talking to his mother is Todzhidin Dzhalolov, the coordinator of
the drop-in centre for children like Abdul (not his real name).
As soon as the conversation ends, Abdul looks confident once more
and begins to talk with enthusiasm.
“I’m entering a drawing competition,” he says. “I don’t mind if I
don’t win. I don’t want a prize. I just love drawing. I’m drawing a
picture about my life on the streets. I never had the chance to draw
Tailored for each child
When Abdul leaves, Mr. Dzhalolov explains how the boy came to the
drop-in centre, which is run by a local non-governmental
organization, Nasli Navras, here in the capital of Tajikistan.
The centre provides a range of activities for children in the
local community as part of Tajikistan’s Juvenile Justice
Alternatives Project. It is also the first facility of its kind in
the country to provide an alternative to detention or
institutionalization for children who run into trouble with the law.
“His mother brought him here after he had been expelled from
school for petty theft,” Mr. Dzhalolov says, referring to Abdul. “He
is full of energy and wants to please. He is also a talented
pianist, but he is difficult to control.”
A medical examination upon his arrival at the centre revealed the
grim reality of Abdul’s life, notes Mr. Dzhalolov. “We found that
his body was covered with burns,” he says. “At first he wouldn’t
tell us what they were. He said it was an accident. Then when we
persisted, we learnt his mother burnt him with an iron as a
Abdul was assessed at the centre by a project team trained with
support from UNICEF. Like the other youths at the centre, he helped
to design his own programme, which includes recreational activities
and counselling. His mother also now receives counselling services.
Model for alternative projects
If Abdul lived in a different part of the country or had committed
the theft a few years ago, it is likely that the Commission on
Minors would have sent him to a closed detention centre.
The situation caught the attention of a National Expert Group on
Juvenile Justice, established in 2003 by the National Commission on
Child Protection. The group found that children appearing before the
Commission on Minors and the Courts for committing small offences
were often sent to closed detention because there were no effective
Based on the group’s recommendations, the Children’s Legal
Centre, a UK-based NGO, in collaboration with UNICEF and the
government, developed the model for the Juvenile Justice
“We need to replicate such projects systematically throughout the
country,” says UNICEF Social Policy Reform and Child Protection
Officer Furkat Lutfulloev. “The centres have clearly demonstrated
their advantages compared to closed institutions. Apart from
respecting the rights of the child, they are also managing to reform
Of the 120 children assisted since the alternatives project
began, only 4 have re-offended – an extremely low number by
international standards – according to Mr. Lutfulloev.
Helping families to cope
The poorest of the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan suffered a
five-year civil war and economic decline in the 1990s. The country’s
struggle has left children particularly vulnerable. An increasing
number of them drop out of school, take to the streets or have been
abandoned and abused by their families, who in turn are struggling
Jamshed (not his real name), 14, is one of the youths who have
completed the reform programme in Fridarvsi District. He is
confident, well dressed and, these days, smiles often. Asked why he
attended the centre, Jamshed’s memory is selective. “I had to drop
out of school when my mother left for Russia,” he replies.
Zarina Alimshoeva, centre coordinator in Fridarvsi, tells the
full story. When Jamshed’s mother left, she explains, he became a
gang leader and the “biggest fuel thief in the area.”
But she adds fondly: “Jamshed has done really well since he came
to the centre. He returns here just to visit us now because he
enjoys it so much here. He is at school and lives with his mother