In 2015, state representatives and civil society came together to discuss the future of juvenile justice. During five days, the approximately 800 participants had the opportunity to listen to some 100 speakers in 32 workshops and to share good practices.

Some 900 delegates from more than 80 countries participated in the five-day World Congress on Juvenile Justice in Geneva, which was the first international meeting of its kind on this issue. Experts and representatives of civil society, Governments and international organizations worked together to find better solutions for children and young people in conflict with the law, as well as for child victims and witnesses. A final declaration was adopted.
Co-organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Terre des hommes Foundation, in collaboration with the Federal Office of Justice, the World Congress on Juvenile Justice was a forum for the exchange of experiences between different countries and legal systems. In particular, it enabled participants to examine the extent to which judicial practices are in line with international standards.

The Congress was opened by the head of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, who stressed that, despite the efforts that had already been made in the field of juvenile justice, much remained to be done. Mr. Burkhalter also confirmed that Switzerland will continue to support the efforts of the United Nations system to strengthen juvenile justice and promote restorative justice, as well as to eliminate all forms of violence against children, whether children in conflict with the law, child victims or child witnesses.

The origin of the 2015 World Congress?

With respect for the sovereignty of each country, and despite the undeniable progress made in recent decades, the improvement of juvenile justice remained a determining issue in the best interests of children in conflict with the law, as well as in the interests of society as a whole, regardless of economic disparities between countries. Despite the diversity of legal systems, the challenges to be faced, as well as the debates in public opinion, raised the same issues everywhere: the conditions of detention of children in conflict with the law, the respect of their rights, the effectiveness of non-custodial measures, the benefits of restorative juvenile justice, the reform of the justice system, and the conditions for efficient prevention of juvenile crime.

What were the objectives of this Congress?

International legal instruments, norms and standards existed: the Congress aimed above all at advancing their implementation, through the exchange of practical experiences and the dissemination of innovations and positive experiences. It aimed to enable public and civil society actors to take a decisive step towards ensuring the means for enhanced cooperation, between stakeholders in each country, as well as in terms of regional and international cooperation.

Who was this Congress for?

States, invited to present their progress in the field of juvenile justice (legislation, pilot projects, innovations), to formulate the challenges to be met and the means to be implemented, and to present their needs and proposals for regional and international co-operation.

Juvenile justice professionals (judges, magistrates, prosecutors, academic authorities, prison administration, social services, police, lawyers, etc.) invited to express their lessons learned and proposals.

United Nations Agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other international cooperation actors concerned with legislative reform, training of actors and coordination of civil society initiatives.


At the time of the Congress, there were countless national laws and international conventions on juvenile justice. The challenge for jurists and civil society is to apply them in a way that respects the rights of children in conflict with the law and child victims and is in the interest of the entire community.

Indeed, although a significant number of international instruments regulate juvenile justice, their implementation is too often woefully inadequate in practice. The World Congress had been a forum for dialogue that had facilitated the exchange of best practices in judicial procedures and the reintegration of juveniles in conflict with the law. The concept of restorative justice was a central topic addressed by the Congress.

Recognizing that juvenile justice is an aspect of children’s rights that has not received the international attention it deserves (some NGOs consider it a silent emergency), the World Congress on Juvenile Justice concluded with the adoption of a final declaration aimed at promoting the principles of child-friendly justice and restorative justice.