No Rights without Accountability: Promoting Access to Justice for Children
Author: Anne Grandjean
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How can policy interventions help in securing children's access to justice? Widespread acceptance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) implies a profound change in attitudes to children, but obstacles remain for children in accessing justice. This chapter analyses initiatives targeting the 'demand-side' of justice for children. It highlights principles such as targeting the most excluded children, local ownership, and a multi-disciplinary, systemic approach.
Children's access to justice very often depends on the support and goodwill of adults. However, despite the widespread ratification of the CRC, there is still no full acceptance of children as rights holders. Overloaded justice systems are therefore unlikely to prioritise children's cases.
UNICEF has significant experience in supporting governments to create juvenile justice systems in line with children's rights. For example:
- UNICEF supports a network of 482 Paralegal committees (PLCs) across Nepal, which facilitate access to justice and mediation services for children whose rights have been violated. PLCs comprise women volunteers drawn from the communities they serve, and from diverse backgrounds.
- Since 2007, UNICEF has supported the implementation of the Village Courts Child Protection Program in Papua New Guinea. This involves training to build the capacity of women and children to understand and claim their rights, and encourages magistrates to recognise and fulfil their obligations.
- In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, UNICEF supports socio-legal defence centres that provide free legal, psychological and social advice to children affected by violence. Empowering children through the provision of information and education on their rights and how to access the centres is an important component of the programme.
These three interventions have several features in common that can be instrumental in contributing to improved access to justice for children:
- They are decentralised and located in areas where the poorest, most excluded children live: special efforts are needed to reach these groups.
- They are owned and run by communities. This is important in order for interventions to be accepted in communities and to operate efficiently.
- They are multi-disciplinary and involve a large number of partners. Addressing child abuse requires the specific and combined competencies of many professions.
- They respond to a particular need in a weak or failing formal justice system. On the one hand, they deal with issues of core importance to the populations they serve and, on the other, they fill a gap in the formal system.
- They inform upstream policies and advocacy. As the first point of contact for child victims, these programmes can play an important role in monitoring child rights violations and advocating for policies.
- They are part of a systemic approach. These interventions support sound laws and policies, professional capacity, protective services, children's knowledge, public awareness and the monitoring of trends and impacts.
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Grandjean, A., 2010, 'No Rights without Accountability: Promoting Access to Justice for Children', in Legal Empowerment: Practitioners’ Perspectives, ed S. Golub, International Development Law Organisation, Rome, pp. 265-283