01 September 2013

Policing Kiribati in a child friendly way

By Karen Allen, UNICEF Pacific Representative
Karen Allen with a UN colleague and community police officers
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Teannak
Child friendly learning, baby-friendly hospitals, even child-friendly municipalities... I know about all these. In Tarawa UNICEF has trained the entire police force of Kiribati on a child friendly protocol, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and how, when and where to make referrals. Of course, it is a small country, and the police force is about 400 officers - nevertheless, I can say that here is a whole country with a child friendly police force!

The Kiribati police are called Community Police. They do not carry a weapon and their approach is very much to work with community members, as key influencers, not only as enforcers. After the UNICEF training, they have forged closer ties with young peoples' groups, schools and churches. I learned about the Blue Night Disco, where music and dancing is interspersed with discussions on healthy recreational choices.  Under age public drinking, drunken behaviour, violence committed by anyone under age 18 results in an "apprehension for diversion".

The police will bring the perpetrator to his or her home and then to a community group for counselling, assign a mentor, and together a plan will be worked out for remedial actions such as community service, adherence to a nighttime curfew, commitment to stay away from bars and alcohol. The young person continues to meet with her or his mentor and the police officer to make sure the actions are being undertaken. In this way, young people are diverted from the formal justice system and from risky behaviour and law breaking.

Community Policing in Kiribati
© UNICEF Pacific/2013/Teannak
I visited with a male and female officer in Beito community. They are very committed and proud of their work with young people and believe the new approach is definitely working to reduce the number and frequency of adolescents in contact with the law. They have the posters from their UNICEF workshop displayed in their office. Almost all of the adolescents who get into trouble come from families with problems such as a father who has abandoned them, alcoholic or gambling-prone parents who are seldom at home; parents or other caregivers who abuse the children.

The community police make their rounds on foot, and they wish they had motorbikes or at least bicycles to reach all parts of their community more frequently, and to be able to respond faster to calls. Since Kiribati is totally low and flat (highest point is the top of the parliament building), it seems the bicycles are a good idea. And with a generator, you can charge your phone while you cycle!

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