No Rights Without Accountability: Promoting Access to Justice for Children

Summary: The year 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The adoption and near universal acceptance of the CRC implies a profound change in the way the world sees and treats children. Recognizing that children have human rights, the CRC creates obligations for governments and duties for communities. The child is no longer the object of the charity of adults, but rather, a full-fledged subject of rights.

As a result, every child – or a party on his or her behalf – must be able to make claims and demand accountability when rights are not respected. Children’s rights imply the establishment of legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms.

In reality, all over the world, children face extraordinary obstacles in accessing justice due to various factors, including: their dependent status; a lack of information on their rights and on how to demand redress; and the complexity and remoteness of justice systems. The particular issue of child participation in administrative and legal processes, or lack thereof, also reflects the many challenges children face. Certainly, they do face difficulty in participating as full-fledged members in their communities despite that CRC provides for the right to express their views and be heard in all matters affecting them, in accordance with their age and maturity. Children often lack a voice in issues that concern them. Ultimately, in overloaded justice systems, children’s cases are unlikely to be treated as a priority.

The 20th anniversary of the CRC is a good opportunity to reflect on what can be done to improve children’s access to justice. Overcoming these extraordinary obstacles and ensuring adequate access to justice for children requires effort on at least two levels: building a child-sensitive justice system on the one hand (the supply side), and providing information and support to children in claiming for their rights and obtaining redress on the other. At both levels, the focus must be on the most excluded and the most difficult to reach (the demand side).

This chapter mainly focuses on the latter – the demand side – and describes a few promising initiatives supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF): the Paralegal Committees in Nepal, the Village Courts Child Protection Program in Papua New Guinea and Socio-legal Defense Centers in the occupied Palestinian territory. These initiatives have several features in common that are particularly instrumental in contributing to an improved access to justice for children; if confirmed through formal evaluations, they could constitute a basis for the identification of successful interventions promoting children’s access to justice:

  • They are decentralized and located in areas where the poorest, most excluded live;
  • They are owned and run by communities;
  • They are multi-disciplinary and involve and large number of partners, including civil society organizations;
  • They respond to a particular need and fill a gap in a weak or failing formal justice system;
  • They inform upstream policies and advocacy; and
  • They are part of a systematic approach.

Owner: Anne Grandjeanpdf:

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