Report, by Radoslava Karabasheva, 19 November 2014

In 1999, the International Institute for the Rights of the Child organized the 5th International Seminar of Sion in collaboration with the Swiss Society of juvenile criminal law, to celebrate the centenary of the first specialized juvenile court. Fifteen years later, the Juvenile Court of the Canton of Geneva celebrates its 100th anniversary.

On the 3rd of October, after a century of it's existence, the Juvenile Court of Geneva opened its doors to the public. They wanted to take stock, with a seminar reviewing its past and present, in order to "define the outline of the future". This theme attracted more than 150 participants from all over western Switzerland, including experienced professionals, says the president of the Juvenile Court, Olivier Deferne. During the opening the day before, Jean Zermatten held a public lecture, on a more universal topic: "the juvenile justice system to the test of the years."

The conference brought together professionals from all areas related to juvenile justice starting with "their" juvenile court, the juvenile prosecutor and lawyer. The public was then faced with the juvenile police as well as the protection and integration services for children (Juvenile Protection Service, Personal Assistance Unit, Department of alternative penalties, the educational and observation centre La Clairière, La Fontanelle and Caritas foster care).

At first, the conference looked at the time when the juvenile court was created to try to better understand the project and both its educational or stifling scope. During the nineteenth Century, the child was considered as a victim of his/her environment. Therefore, the child was remote, confined and isolated, in order to be better protected and rehabilitated. However, the related institutions appear ineffective. The children are being uprooted and isolated or even punished and exploited. This inefficiency encourages the Geneva judges to advocate for change, inspired by the success of the model found at the Juvenile Court of Chicago. In 1908, the first bill was introduced in Geneva, but it was not until 1914 that it was adopted. The Criminal Division for children brought to light the measures of "probation" rather than confinement.

In this passage from the past to the present of the juvenile justice system in Geneva, a few key messages emerged. The juvenile justice is currently on the right path and has the right philosophy. Alternative solutions can be very effective and cost no more than closed institutions. Additionally, in the long term, the alternatives are decidedly more "useful to society". Finally, the information available to the general public seems to be insufficient. Work around the popularization of this information is necessary, because if the scandals take up so much space in the media, the daily successes of young people and the professionals that support them, take very little.

Read pdfthe full report of the conference (in French).