UNICEF Field Trip Part 2: Adolescents in Conflict with the Law
04 Nov 2012|Marina Cozzika
Sometimes you get to meet amazing people in the oddest places. When UNICEF took us to a center taking care of adolescents (14 to 18 years) in conflict with the law, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience.
Have you ever been obsessed by a thought over and over again? My thought for the rest of that day was: “Why did I not take my Leonardo da Vinci art book with me?”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The UNICEF field trip showed us to an Alternative to Deprivation of Liberty Program for adolescents in conflict with the law in Santa Cruz. There are approximately 600 adolescents in deprivation of liberty settings serving their sentences in Bolivia. If the youths are between 12 to 15 years old when they commit a crime, they are not judged as an adult. But from 16 years on, they are considered an adult which means that they can be put to jail and thereby be placed at risk of being attacked. This is where UNICEF works to reform juvenile justice law through inter-institutional working group. It proposes that the age of juvenile criminal responsibility be 14 to 18 years old in accordance with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which defines the concept of child being a person under the age of 18 years old.
SEDEPOS, a UNICEF local partner, is implementing the first socio-educational program as an alternative to deprivation of liberty for adolescents in conflict with the law in Bolivia. This pioneering program is being implemented in the prefecture of Santa Cruz (Forteleza) with the aim to provide psychological support to youths and help prevent adolescents coming into conflict with the law. The program provides psycho-educational sessions, family therapy sessions and helps facilitate access to gain a better education or life skills training, The program interventions hope to ensure their reintegration back into society and prevent recidivism upon completion of sentence.
In addition to this drop in centre, UNICEF also took us to Fortaleza, a deprivation of liberty centre where youths are confined for a period of time. The Kantar team composed of Rosa, Libia, Richard and myself were given a tour of the Fortaleza centre; we had a look at the classrooms, the bedrooms, and the inner garden. The boys – yes the boys, girls don’t often come into conflict with the law and as a consequence there is no centre just for girls – were given the opportunity to change their lives. At first glance it appeared they had everything they could possibly need, except then you remind yourself, they can’t leave. In fact, it looked just like a boarding school, except the residents had committed crimes (robbery, violent acts, assault…).
We were allowed to interact with them. By sheer chance, I happened to meet a young boy called Fernando (I changed his name to preserve his anonymity). He was carrying a book with him, but I didn’t really pay attention to it at first. I also didn’t ask him what crime he had committed to end up there. He didn’t deny having done anything to end up in this place. Fernando was serving his sentence, he liked the center and the teachers but he was counting the days till he would be free again. He had projects: he wanted to be a painter like Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican painter who helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement. But at the moment, he was a great admirer of Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian Master. He showed me what he carried under his arm, a tutorial book on drawing. He liked to draw portraits of his fellow residents and he felt miserable when he couldn’t draw. We started to discuss where he could see real paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and came to the conclusion that he should travel to Europe one day. But at the moment, he was happy to discover his work through the book which contained a reproduction of the drawing of the “Universal Man”. Amazingly, he was instinctively doing something that other artists had done for centuries: copying from Past Masters! And as the discussion drew to other works from da Vinci, I realized, he hadn’t seen some of his masterworks. I asked UNICEF if I would be allowed to send the center a book about the Italian Master and the reply was on par with how they work. They want to bring change to the community and that no child is favored above the other. Helping one person is nice, but helping the community is better. It was clear but painful at the same time as I came to understand their way of thinking.
I felt a little sad during the rest of day, thinking that if I had carried my pocket art book with me as I always do in Paris, I could have shown him some of da Vinci masterworks. But the good news was that Fernando was going to be freed in a year. The centre already gave him access to lots of information, educated him and gave him chances that he would not have had locked up in prison with adults. He was determined to become an artist and I wish him all the best.
About Adolescents in conflict with the law program, SEDEPOS
With the support of UNICEF, the ‘adolescents in conflict with the law program’ of the departmental social services of Santa Cruz is applying alternative solutions to the deprivation of liberty measures. It uses socio-educational in its characteristics to protect, respect and reinstitute the rights of adolescents who have committed a crime, and in accordance with international law where it says deprivation of liberty should be the last measures applicable for them.
About the Fortaleza centre
Fortaleza Centre is a deprivation of liberty centre for adolescents in conflict with the law between the ages of 12-15 years old. The centre provides an alternative scheme for children to continue access to education whilst serving their sentence. The centre applies socio-educational measures while making them aware of their responsibilities and providing them with integrated education/training. At this centre, boys receive assistance for their personal development and positive moral influence from role models (teachers, visitors…) to guarantee their successful family re-insertion and prevent recidivism. The centre is also used as preventative custody for adolescents who are waiting for their sentence.