Through a New Lens: A Child-Sensitive Approach to Transitional Justice

Summary: This report examines how and to what extent transitional justice approaches have engaged children and considered their needs and perspectives, analyzing the experience of truth-seeking mechanisms, criminal justice, reparations, and institutional reform. It analyzes experiences of four countries—Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Colombia and Nepal—and identifies some key lessons on children’s participation in transitional justice measures.

Children are among the most affected in countries suffering from conflict or massive human rights violations. Children have the right to express their views and be considered in processes concerning them, including transitional justice. Yet, children and youth have not been systematically included as focus of transitional justice mechanisms. As part of a victim-centered approach, an assessment of the role and impact of violations on children and youth should be one of the key lenses used to understand the context, identify the needs, and inform the nature and function of a transitional justice measure. A child-sensitive approach should be included early in the process of developing transitional justice measures, and addressing violations against children should be made an explicit part of their mandates. This involves allocating resources for expertise and administrative support and ensuring that children’s issues are considered appropriately where relevant.

Even in cases where children are not among those most directly or severely affected by the violations, children are important stakeholders—especially in countries where they constitute a considerable part of the overall population or even the majority—and must therefore be adequately informed and consulted. The best interests of the child, concerns for their physical protection and psychosocial well-being and for confidentiality and anonymity must be considered when engaging children in transitional justice.

Truth-Seeking Mechanisms (i.e. Truth Commissions):

  • When establishing a truth-seeking mechanism, it is critical to analyze the context through a child-sensitive lens to assess how children were affected by violations and to determine their specific needs. If the assessment shows that children were affected, the mandate of the mechanism should make a clear reference to violations suffered by children. This should in turn guide decisions about staffing, methodology, and structure. Truth-seeking mechanisms should gather statements from children and those who were victimized as children, as long as it can be done safely. Children must have access to psychosocial assistance throughout the process, and provisions must be made for their physical safety and long-term community support.

Criminal Justice:

  • Children often face significant difficulties regarding their access to justice and treatment by the justice system. These difficulties are exacerbated in transitional and post-conflict contexts. While there have been positive initial steps, more needs to be done, both at the domestic level and internationally, to foster the prosecution of those responsible for crimes against children. A fuller range of crimes suffered by children should be prosecuted, and procedures should be made child-friendly. The report suggests that the focus on the crime of illegal recruitment and use in hostilities of children associated with armed forces and groups (CAAFAG) may not be fully understood by local communities, in places such as the DRC, and may not necessarily have positively affected the release of the children concerned, both in the DRC and in Colombia.

Reparations Programs:

  • The right to reparations extends to all victims of gross human rights violations, including children. Few reparations programs have explicitly recognized children as beneficiaries, however, and others have struggled with effectively designing and administering child-sensitive reparations. Child-specific reparations are crucial because they reaffirm the rights of children in the face of past violations, attempt to remedy lost opportunities and provide for their futures.
  • Reparations should aim to help children gather the tools, resources, and support they need to lead a productive life, for example by attempting to compensate for lost years of schooling through accelerated educational programs.

Institutional Reform:

  • Security sector reform and other institutional reforms should address the concerns and demands of children and youth. Such reforms have traditionally overlooked the needs of girls, who have circumvented official processes and “self-demobilized.” Programming should include a gender focus that is specific to the needs of children.
  • The education sector should be factored into transitional justice measures. Often at the source of violence and discrimination, it also holds significant potential to help build new norms of respect for human rights.

Across all contexts, the study found widespread unawareness of transitional justice measures among children. In Colombia, lack of information on deadlines and eligibility requirements meant that many youth never received reparations they were potentially due. Building on the few positive examples that exist, transitional justice mechanisms should invest in creating materials that are easily accessible to a range of audiences, including younger generations. This could mean producing a version of the final report of a truth and reconciliation commission accessible to children and youth or including the main findings of a transitional justice mechanism into school curricula.

There is an especially strong need for increased consultation and coordination between child-protection agencies and transitional justice actors to advocate jointly for child-sensitive transitional justice measures.

Failure to address the concerns of children and youth can undermine the long-term recovery of transitional or post-conflict societies. Children and youth need to understand the past to play a constructive role in building the future.

Owner: Cecile Aptel, Virginie Ladischpdf:


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