Ramallah, February 8, 2016—Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed into law the long-gestating juvenile protection bill on Thursday that meets modern international standards for safeguarding children’s rights, with a focus on alternatives to incarceration.
The juvenile protection law unifies and updates the Palestinian juvenile justice system, recognizing minors – those under the age of 18 – as victims in need of protection, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society, rather than as criminals deserving of punishment. Previously, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank had relied on a Jordanian law that dated back to 1954 and the Hamas government in Gaza applied British law enacted in 1937.
The best interests of the child serves as the guiding principle of the law, with the deprivation of liberty used as a measure of last resort. Detained children will spend their time in rehabilitation facilities as opposed to prisons. The law also creates juvenile courts and specialized units among the police, prosecutors, and judges for dealing with children in conflict with the law.
“This juvenile protection law represents a significant step in advancing legal protections for Palestinian children and reconciling the domestic legal framework with international standards,” said Khaled Quzmar, the general director of Defense for Children International – Palestine. “Focus should now turn to proper implementation.”
A national commission, including DCIP, completed a draft law on juvenile protection in 2012. However, the process of passing the legislation had been slow despite its potential to remedy the failings of the Palestinian juvenile justice system.
In recent years, however, the Palestinian Authority has made strides to align the juvenile justice system with international standards. At the end of 2012, amendments to Palestinian Child Law No. 7 came into effect, which raised the age of criminal responsibility from 9 to 12, among other changes.
In 2014, Abbas signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. In doing so, the State of Palestine had an obligation to reconcile the domestic legal framework for juveniles with international standards and this proved to be the necessary impetus for bringing the juvenile protection law to fruition.
The policy change comes as the State of Palestine prepares its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the CRC.
DCIP will monitor developments and submit information to the committee for consideration as part of the initial review, which is expected to take place in 2017.