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2007.09.12

* UNICEF: Working to help improve justice system for juveniles in Mongolia

* 24 Apr 2007


What began as an addiction to computer games ends in a dark jail cell. At a police station in the far western Mongolian town of Ulaangom, 14-year-old Munkh awaits trial, charged with theft. He’s been waiting here for eight months.

Munkh and some friends stole cash from a kiosk to support their video game habit. He has since returned the money, but his prospects of release are poor. It is common practice in Mongolia to keep children under 18 in detention for a prolonged period, and to sentence those accused of minor crimes to prison terms.

SOUNDBITE (Mongolian) – “Munkh”, charged with theft: “The first thing I wish to do as soon as I’m released is to make my Mom and Dad happy and start to work.”

Munkh’s arrest has only worsened an already difficult situation for his five siblings. The family has no steady income, and survives mainly on child welfare stipends from the government.

Theirs is an increasingly common plight in a country still struggling to emerge from the collapse of socialism... an environment where more children are coming in conflict with the law. In the last decade, the number of crimes involving juveniles has doubled.

In Ulaan Baatar, tough times have forced many children to live on – and under – the streets. At least several hundred boys and girls survive cramped between water pipes across the city.

17-year-old Soyol has been living in maholes since the death of her father, four years ago. She and other children have found the streets the only place they can scrape together enough money for food, through begging or washing cars.

SOUNDBITE (Mongolian) – Soyol, Living on the street: “Most of children here are from poor families. They lack clothes, they lack food. And most have stepfathers. Stepfathers usually beat the children.”

Trapped in poverty, many street children resort to petty crime.

If arrested, they are treated little differently than adults. They are often kept in small concrete cells without toilets. Many claim they have been beaten by guards.

SOUNDBITE (English) – Bertrand Desmoulins, UNICEF Representatve, Mongolia: “The problem with (the) juvenile justice in Mongolia is that there is no specific juvenile justice. So there is no specific sentencing; there is no specific court for children. (edit) The sentences are extremely heavy and disproportionate with the type of crime or so-called “crime” that they are being arrested for.”

UNICEF is working to help reform Mongolia’s legal system… to improve conditions at detention centers, and more importantly, to steer young people away

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