i-Restore: Protecting Child Victims through Restorative Justice is a project implemented by Terre des Hommes Europe in Romania, Greece and Albania, in partnership with the European Forum for Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice Netherlands, co-funded by the Justice Programme of the European Union 2014–2020. The project aims at promoting the use of restorative justice in cases involving child victims by improving knowledge amongst national stakeholders on child-victim friendly restorative justice and empowering children to advocate for better protection of child victims. By adopting an innovative approach — the Child Advisory Boards (CAB), the project empowers children to become stronger advocates to better protect child victims’ rights. Besides that, i-Restore proposes to look at restorative justice from the perspective of children and empower them to understand and practice restorative justice values.

Ruxandra Dorobanțu

How did I get engaged in the project? 

In the i-RESTORE project I helped the author of the research ‘Restorative Justice in Cases involving Child Victims in Romania’ transcribe the interviews and tried to contribute where I could see fit with relevant questions, comments and suggested specialists to be interviewed who could have had a relevant opinion on restorative justice. (The interviews were conducted in the form of two focus groups where the young people had to read two case studies and discuss them. The quotations in this article are extracts from the transcript of these focus groups.) Having the opportunity to work with interviews carried out by the Terre des hommes researcher with judges, mediators, lawyers and other specialists in the justice field, I was able to find out about their direct experience in restorative justice. I had the opportunity to see different facets of a main idea with which all specialists agreed, at least in part: restorative justice is beneficial to all parties involved and affected.

This study, ‘Restorative Justice in Cases involving Child Victims in Romania’ is aimed at identifying gaps and synergies concerning applying restorative justice in cases involving child victims in Romania. The first part of the report addresses the history of restorative justice in Romania and the second part comprises an empirical study, based on interviews carried out with 40 professionals and 20 children on: 

  • restorative work with child victims, 
  • the challenges identified in working with children, 
  • best practices in working with children, 
  • the existence and the frequency of training in restorative and 
  • juvenile justice, and 
  • the children’s opinions and understanding about restorative justice. 

As part of the research consultation, children were also trained in restorative justice to better understand its values and possible impact in their lives and communities.

What did I learn from the experience of participating in the project?

The i-Restore project gave me the opportunity to see the possibility of resolving conflicts through a considerably less dehumanising method. 

One must be lucky to meet people who want to help him/her. I think people who have committed crimes are much harder to recover on their own. They must be helped by someone. And restorative justice is the context for that to happen.

In Romania, the situation of both victims and offenders is sinister, especially for minors. When a minor offender is treated as if there is no way back on the right path for him/her, why would he/she bother to search it? 

It is important that abusers/perpetrators be put in the place of the victim.

And as a victim, when no one takes into account the sensitivity of the trauma and the need to reconcile with the situation, can a purely punitive system satisfy you?

I think you should give them something to lose because criminals usually have nothing left to be lost and that's why they end up doing these things. They think they have no family, no wealth, they have nothing to lose, so they can do these things. And you must give them something to lose … if they go to prison, they lose their freedom, the last thing left …

I had the opportunity to learn in the i-Restore project that restorative justice comes with solutions better suited to both parties, so that rehabilitation is a priority for the offender, and not only the legal, but also the psychological management of the conflict is fair for the victim.

What is my understanding and thoughts about restorative justice?

In my opinion, restorative justice goes hand in hand with mediation and these are two methods that ensure that following a conflict or aggression, there is a low probability of a conflict being reborn from unresolved tensions. For me, restorative justice understands that in addition to being victims or offenders, those involved are people who most likely find themselves in situations of unbalance, and that it cannot only address the current conflict, but the source of the conflict to prevent its recurrence. 

I think criminals would benefit more from restorative justice, because I believe this process would make them realise ‘look what I did to him,’ ‘look at what stage I brought him,’ ‘I can be in this situation too,’ and would realise better what they did.

I believe that one of the greatest benefits of restorative justice is the subsequent adaptation of the aggressor, which ultimately leads to a lower probability of recidivism and overall benefits for the whole community. Not only that, but mediation is an additional option given to the victim to overcome their possible trauma. 

If you want to evolve, yes, you go for restorative justice.

I believe that restorative justice is a need in Romania, and projects such as i-RESTORE contributes to feed this need.

Ruxandra Dorobanțu is a volunteer, member of the Child Advisory Board in Romanian element of the the i-Restore project  conducted by Terre des hommes Romania.