Improving Access to Justice for Children and Teens

UN PhotoPaulo Filgueiras -- ChildSoldierCourt

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, October 13, 2014 to Friday, October 17, 2014
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary of Conversation

Thank you for joining the New Tactics community for the online conversation on Improving Access to Justice for Children and Teens from October 13 - 17, 2014.

Children encounter unique obstacles to accessing justice mechanisms for seeking remedies to human rights violations. Providing access of justice for children requires “child sensitive mechanisms” that identify their needs and integrates their voices in justice systems. As a result of the challenges children face when accessing justice, The United Nations passed in April 2014 a third optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (OP3) enabling children to bring complaints about violations directly to the  committee on the rights of the child if they have not found a solution at a national level. Improving access to justice for children can occur by examining the challenges faced by children, the use of alternative dispute mechanisms, collective litigation strategies, tactics to help child victims through the court process and how to use regional and international complaint mechanisms.

Tactic Examples Shared:

Conversation Threads:

What are the specific challenges children and teens face when accessing justice?

Children in conflict with the law often encounter inconsistent contact with different adults and this impacts rapport building. They feel “burned by adults” and become skeptical of the justice system and its ability to help them. Children may hesitate to seek remedies because of the fear of reprisal or violence. An advocate explained that honesty and transparency in justice systems will meet child’s needs and increase their faith and willingness to engage with the system. This involves “explaining the law, processes, timeframes and possible outcomes.”

Children also face a lack of knowledge about their rights and how to access justice mechanisms to seek remedies. Educating enforcement and protection agencies of children’s rights could help alleviate this problem. A participant shared the findings of a survey conducted by Child Rights Connect. It identified that 88% of children get information of remedies to their rights violations from parents. The survey also found that youth have a preference for seeking this information at school or online.  Advocates expressed the findings raise questions as to what extent are the adults that children consult aware of their rights. Children who many need to seek remedies could learn about their rights from fellow “peers and survivors.”

Vulnerable children who face abuse from parents or obstacles impeding their access to information about remedies are less likely to seek information about their rights. The Children may not view “themselves as survivors or have knowledge or about their rights.” Technology and education initiatives can help children access the information they need.

Current approaches in many Justice Systems utilize punitive responses that do not consider children’s needs and unique developmental characteristics. Alternative approaches like Restorative Justice, rehabilitation and reintegration could be utilized to make justice systems more “child sensitive.”

Alternative Mechanisms: How have alternative dispute resolution mechanisms been used to provide access to justice for children?

ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) allows children and other affected parties the opportunity to “hear others’ experiences.” ADR also allows for healing “between the victim and community.” ADR has a lack of visibility and understanding among advocates as to how they are used in processes for children with adult offenders.

Restorative models in New Zealand are used to deal with children in conflict with the law. Restorative Justice is used to allow children to take responsibility for their actions and to facilitate healing for victims. They are used for “criminal and non-criminal contexts.” Participants sought more information on how restorative models are used in criminal cases where children are offenders, victims or both.

Group Action: How have practitioners used group litigation & collective or class action suits to challenge laws & practices?

Children Rights International Network (CRIN) currently manages a global study for the access to justice for children. The survey intends to research collective action or group litigation examples in different countries. CRIN has collected litigation examples from the following countries Australia, The United States, Canada, Argentina, Guyana, Sweden, China, New Zealand and Ireland. The CRIN survey is still ongoing.

Criminal Justice: What tactics are practitioners using to help child victims access justice through the criminal court system?

“Child-sensitive” procedures do not exist in some justice systems or are used inconsistently.  For example, children involved in sexual exploitation need to be viewed "as victims and survivors,” not as criminals. However, institutional incentives that shape and encourage law enforcement apprehension approaches undermine viewing children in a “child-sensitive manner.”

The use of child testimony requires “child-sensitive” considerations. Youth may become re-traumatized in the process of sharing their testimony. Some prosecutors in the United States have built “cases around the victim/survivor” to avoid the use of child testimony. Questions that can help guide future conversations about integrating more child-sensitive procedures are: What are the child-friendly procedures used in other countries? How can advocates know when it is in the best interests for youth to testify? Do criminal justice professionals understand the standard of the best interests of a child when managing prosecutions of crimes against children?

Regional & International Complaint Mechanisms: How can these mechanisms help improve access to justice for children & teens?

Advocates can use International Complaint mechanisms when remedies are not accessible at a national level. Advocates could leverage international mechanisms “as a strategic advocacy tool to change national legislation and policies.” The Optional Protocol 3 (OP3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be used to bring cases of children experiencing “unduly prolonged cases” though it has not been utilized yet.

Other Protocols exist to file complaints like the European Social Charter Providing for a System of Collective Complaints, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Regional or international mechanism may have conditions that need to be satisfied, such as exhausting all “domestic remedies first.” Likewise, the filing complaint may need a “working language,” or the “complainant’s identity” might be required. Some bodies provide special considerations towards victims: African Commission on Human and People’s Rights allows complainants to remain anonymous; and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings provides “a mandatory 30-day recovery period (article 13) for suspected victims, during which they would not be pressured to provide witness testimony.”

Resource List:

Photo: Alima, a former child soldier, shares her testimony at the presentation of a working paper by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, entitled “The rights and guarantees of internally displaced children in armed conflict." Credit: UN

Conversation Leaders

agoh's picture
Anita Goh
Child Rights Connect
meagan's picture
Meagan Lee
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Stu Levit's picture
Stu Levit
Naomi Wambui's picture
Naomi Wambui
Girl Child Network
dlynch's picture
Darlene C. Lynch
ECPAT International
ChristinaW2's picture
Christina W
Reinventing The Rules
JonathanTodres's picture
Jonathan Todres
Georgia State University College of Law