The year 2020 theme is Access to a Child-Friendly Justice System in Africa.
On 16 June 1976 In Soweto, South Africa, thousands of black schoolchildren took to the streets to protest about the inferior quality of their education and to demand their right to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of them were shot down; and in the two weeks of protest that followed, more than a hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured.
To honour their courage and in memory of those killed, in 1991 the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) established the Day of the African Child. The Day also draws attention to the lives of African children today.
Access to justice is defined as the ability to obtain a just and timely remedy for violations of rights as put forth in national and international norms and standards.
Lack of access to justice is a defining attribute of poverty and an impediment to poverty eradication and gender equality. Proper access to justice requires legal empowerment of all children: all should be enabled to claim their rights, through legal and other services such as child rights education or advice and support from knowledgeable adults.’
Child: any person below the age of eighteen years.
This year’s theme is centered on Justice – a great reminder for us to ensure that African Children get special care which recognises the legal system as the foundation of child-friendly justice; a movement that calls for a dramatic shift in the ways that our justice systems interact with children.
It should be noted that a child-friendly justice environment embraces the idea that courts can be a powerful tool to positively shape children’s lives and at the same time recognises the reality that contact with the legal system is all too often more a source of additional trauma than a remedy for children.
Building on international children’s rights obligations, child-friendly justice introduces principles that empower children to enforce their rights and encourages government, court, and law enforcement officials to develop policies that address children’s precarious situation in the justice system.***
One important building block for child-friendly Justice System is for Children to have access to expert, specialized and trusted legal practitioners. Such Practitioner can make an enormous difference to a Childs experience of the Justice system and to the outcome of the case.
Child-friendly justice: ‘refers to justice systems which guarantee the respect and the effective implementation of all children’s rights at the highest attainable level. It is, in particular,
according to Council of Europe, justice system that is:
Adapted to and focused on the needs of the child;
Respecting the right to due process;
Respecting the right to participate in and to understand the proceedings;
Respecting the right to private and family life;
Respecting the right to integrity and dignity.
Guidelines on Child-Friendly Legal Aid
- Competence when providing legal aid to children
- Acting in a child’s best interests
- Effective participation
- Building a relationship
- Child-sensitive communication
- Providing reliable and relevant information
- Effective participation in formal hearings
- Working with family members and other supportive adults
- Privacy and confidentiality
- Protecting children from discrimination
- Keeping children safe
- Working with others
As AWLANs and as Legal Professionals, we are encouraged , willing and ready to work collectively with other organizations, provided that it’s in the child’s best interests. Other professionals may include;
Housing officers and so on.
Child friendly justice system cannot be achieved in a state or country with gender disparity. Attaining parity is fundamental to attaining a child friendly justice system, just as access to justice is fundamental to achieving gender parity thus We at African Women Lawyers Association recommend a one stop justice system for women and children with special courts having one jurisdiction and power to deal with any matter connected with or relating to children and women
We also propose and recommend
adoption of a monistic approach to applicability of any international convention, treaties and protocols as well as federal laws pertaining to or related to women and children thus automatically incorporating ratified international Conventions, Treaties and Protocols into our national corpus Juris, in order not to shut out children and women from non compliant states from justice using the example of section 254 C (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (3rd Alteration as amended)
2010 in relation to National Industrial Court of Nigeria.
Child-friendly justice therefore puts an obligation on every one of us to appreciate and minimise the challenges that children face at each step in each aspect of a legal proceeding, building confidence in the view of the justice system as a solution to children’s legal issues rather than another of an already long list of problems. Thus, respecting child-friendly justice principles will not only eliminate many of the traumatic experiences children face in the legal system, it will foster greater respect for their rights by providing all the basic needs for example, that African children are lacking. This is also a timely call to make the environment safe for the African Child from the various acts of sexual assault kidnapping, domestic violence, murder, child labour, child prostitution, and many other harmful practices that may endanger their welfare while perpetrators themselves should face the wrath of the law.
On this occasion we at AWLA all over the world where ever we are will strive to continue to protect and promote the interests of the African Child.
Signed. Amanda Asagba
Source: United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Restorative Justice Programmes in Criminal Matters (2000)
Guidelines on Child-Friendly Legal Aid According To UNICEF Ecaro, October, 2018
UN Common Approach to Justice for Children (2008)