United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty

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United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty


By: United Nations General Assembly

Date: December 14, 1990

Source: United Nations General Assembly. Resolution 45/113. United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. December 14, 1990.

About the Author: The phrase "United Nations" was used during World War II (1939–1945) to describe the dozens of nations allied together to fight Germany and Japan, most notably including China, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America. These allies decided to develop a new organization to facilitate international cooperation and help prevent future wars. It would replace the League of Nations, which had failed to prevent World War II. They called it the United Nations (UN). The UN Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. In the years since the UN has served as a forum for international negotiation and cooperation on many issues, including international security, human rights, trade and economics, and the environment. The General Assembly is the primary bosy for deliberation within the United Nations, in which all member nations have a seat.


In 1989 the United Nations set forth recommendations and guidelines for the international rights of children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) went into force on November 20, 1989, and it acts as an umbrella for three other UN initiatives concerning children. These are the UN Guidelines for the Administration of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyadh Guidelines), the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Protection of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules), and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. These platforms seek to monitor and improve the conditions of juvenile welfare and health, and they are elaborations of the CRC.

The UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty operates to ensure that juvenile detainees, and offenders, are given fair treatment and receive consideration for their age. This UN agenda reflects the perceptual rise in juvenile criminal behavior in the late twentieth century, and it shows consciousness of a growing trend (in many nations) to remove juvenile justice laws. The removal of juvenile justice laws pertains to the decrease in age that offenders are tried as adults. Many countries, including the United States, convict juveniles as adults. Since 1978, in the United States, forty-one states have established laws that make transferring juveniles to adult court easier. Sometimes these transfers occur because the crime is exceptionally heinous, and in other instances these reassignments take place because local and national politics incite emotions. For instance, courts in Paducah, Kentucky decided that Michael Carneal should be tried as an adult for his killings at West Paducah High School in December 1997. Before the Grand Jury voted to try Carneal as an adult, the shock of the public and the media frenzy played heavily into public opinion about the case. None-the-less, critics continually argue for the continuation and reinstatement of juvenile laws.

In Pakistan the Penal Code states that a twelve year old is fully responsible for his or her crimes, and children between seven and twelve can be tried and convicted as those older than twelve if a judge believes they are mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions. These stringent rules are harnessed by the large number of juveniles in Pakistani prisons for murder, causing harm with a weapon, theft, having sexual relations outside of marriage, and a variety of other charges. Pakistan, like several other countries, has executed and placed children on death row. Pakistan has not, as of 2006, executed a child as young as thirteen, but it has executed offenders that were sentenced at thirteen. In contrast, in 1993, a thirteen year old was publicly executed in Yemen. Since 1990 Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United States are the only countries who have formally executed a juvenile offender.

The issue of executing juveniles, or individuals who committed capital punishment crimes as juveniles, is just one aspect of the UN's Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. These points also set forth agendas for sentencing lengths for children, the conditions in which children should or should not be imprisoned, and how children should be treated in detention, jail, or prison.


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Since this UN treaty numerous cases of juvenile mistreatment still occur. In October 2001 a sixteen-year-old Egyptian boy received a five year prison sentence for homosexual acts. His lawyers and international human rights investigators claimed that he was held in detention for several days, without the right to see his family or legal council, and that his confessions were made under duress. Other instances of juveniles receiving extended prison sentences can be seen with children connected with resistance groups. Children fighting with Middle Eastern groups, like the Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations, are routinely held in adult prisons without recourse for release or relocation.

As the international court of public opinion continues to scrutinize countries that treat juveniles as adults, more critics are emerging with discussion concerning the cognitive development of children. These studies range in diversity, with some focusing on early childhood trauma that juveniles may endure and others sighting that full cognitive development and understanding of consequences does not fully set in until the teens and early twenties. Proponents of reducing age limits for crimes note that technology and an increase of violence in media and society enables children to develop criminal behaviors earlier than previous generations. When most modern juvenile justice systems took hold they did not fathom hundreds and thousands of delinquent children. Rather, the systems sought to house a few hundred children annually. Modern discourse and social expectations have expanded laws, legitimized new crimes, and eradicated others.

In March 2006 the US Supreme Court made a nod toward the international community on the treatment of juveniles. In its five to four decision in Roper v Simmons the Court set aside seventy-two juvenile death-row sentences. This decision also banned the future placement of minors on death row. In justifying its decision, members of the Court remarked that the United States is the only country that still routinely sentences minors to death sentences, and that even though the United States has not signed the CRC treaty it should pay note to international public opinion.



Ainsworth, Janet E. "The Court's Effectiveness in Protecting the Rights of Juveniles in Delinquency Cases." The Future of Children. 6.3 (Winter 1996): 64-74.

Farber, Hillary B. "Constitutionality, competence, and conflicts: what is wrong with the state of the law when it comes to juveniles and Miranda? (Symposium: Constitutionality, Competence, and Culpability: Emerging Issues in Criminal Juvenile Law." New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement. 32.1 (Winter 2006): 29-42.

Web sites

Amnesty International. "Death Penalty and Children: New Report Shows USA is Chief Culprit." July 18, 2003. 〈http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news/press/14732.shtml〉 (accessed May 5, 2006).

UNICEF. "Factsheet: Children Deprived of Their Liberty and Juvenile Justice." 〈http://www.unicef.org/protection/justice.pdf〉 (accessed May 5, 2006).

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United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty