Whenever I am in a courtroom I remember the old legal quote: “the trial itself is a punishment.” Whether you are an accused, a witness or an injured person, being party to a trial is a stress that in many cases reaches the level of punishment. This principle is true for children whose emotions are particularly tender and susceptible.
I vividly remember witnessing a trial many years ago, in which a girl who was still a minor gave testimony against a defendant who had killed eight members of her family, including her mother, father and brothers. The witness and the defendant were just a few meters apart divided only by several police officers. I will never forget the fear in the girl’s eyes in recalling such a horrible event, moment by moment, and the trauma she had to go through. I was immensely impressed by her courage and bravery. However, I was very saddened by the re-traumatization she had to go through and would carry for the rest of her life.
With this picture in mind, I was very happy to learn the Ministry of Interior and the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan have agreed to issue instructions to develop child-friendly police rooms and courtrooms, according to the standard developed by UNICEF.
So far, thanks to the support provided by the UK Government and UNICEF, six police stations and six courtrooms in Bishkek, Alamüdün, Suzak, Karakol and Toktogul have already been provided with facilities specifically designed to protect children from stress and re-traumatization. As a matter of fact, the availability of a quiet and secure space is not only a condition to avoid excessive stress to children, it is also a precondition to allow them to reliably participate in the proceedings and support the delivery of justice. No testimony space should therefore look intimidating but rather have the feel of a playroom to put the children at ease.
Following these instructions, police stations and courtrooms across the country must progressively adopt these standards to ensure that the best interests of children and the justice system go hand in hand. By doing so, the State will effectively protect the most vulnerable part of the population and deliver child-friendly justice.
This is one more step to support the development of peace and the protection of children in Kyrgyzstan and worldwide.
Lucio Valerio Sarandrea is Child Protection Chief at UNICEF Kyrgyzstan.