Access to justice is a human right, but it is also what makes other rights a reality. For children’s rights to be more than a promise, there must be a way for those rights to be enforced.
Access to justice for children means that children, or their appropriate advocates where applicable, must be able to use and trust the legal system to protect their human rights. The legal system must provide children the means to obtain a quick, effective and fair response to protect their rights; the means to prevent and solve disputes; mechanisms to control the abuse of power; and all of this must be available through a transparent, efficient, accountable and affordable process. The importance of access to justice applies equally to children and adults, yet children’s rights in this area have long been neglected and ignored.
This report is the result of a research project scrutinising how the legal systems of 197 countries empower children to realise their rights or perpetuate the rights violations that they should combat. With the support of hundreds of lawyers and NGOs from around the world, we have published a report for every country on earth setting out the status of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in national law; how the law treats children involved in legal proceedings; the legal means available to challenge violations of children’s rights; and the practical considerations when challenging violations using the legal system.
This research shows the way that national legal systems can be used to challenge violations of children’s rights and the ways that children can use the law to assert their own rights. It identifies where the law falls short and where legal systems are designed in ways that make it difficult or impossible to combat abuses of children’s rights. We have documented the good, the bad, the effective, the ineffective, the radical and the revolutionary ways that children can access justice around the world and now we want to use this information to promote their rights.
It is not just governments that have a role to play in improving access to justice for children; myriad individuals and entities have an impact, from courts, national human rights institutions, the UN and regional bodies to civil society, parents and other legal representatives, lawyers, the media, and donors. We hope this project will guide governments on how to improve children’s access to courts and other complaints mechanisms to enforce their rights, and encourage the UN and regional bodies to address children’s access to justice in a more systematic way throughout their work. We hope it will inspire NGOs and children’s advocates to consider stronger and more strategic forms of advocacy, and encourage lawyers to assist children and their representatives with seeking redress through the legal system.
Access to justice should be at the core of guaranteeing children’s rights around the world.