Access to justice for children

UNICEF is advocating, providing technical support and creating partnerships to ensure equitable access to justice for all children in Bulgaria

A shadow of a child behind a window with bars. The child is looking through this window.
© UNICEF Bulgaria/2014/Mirela Vavova

The challenge

Children face the same obstacles in accessing justice and support as all the other citizens, but in addition, they are confronted with specific legal and social barriers due to their particular status as minors.

The justice system in Bulgaria is not yet adapted to the rights and special needs of children for support and protection. Complex and lengthy procedures, complicated and vague legal terminology, lack of coordination and cooperation between child protection bodies, the police, prosecutors’ offices and courts, limited access to specialized legal aid as well as insufficient number of professionals trained to work with children are just few of the challenges for children in Bulgaria when they participate in civil, criminal and administrative proceedings.

A Justice system which is not sensitive to the rights and needs of children can discourage them to seek protection for their fundamental human rights and generate further harm rather than guarantee justice and redress.

Children participants in legal proceedings as victims and witnesses of violence and crime, investigated or accused as offenders, or parties to administrative or civil procedures all need to have access to adapted and child-sensitive procedures implemented by specifically trained professionals.

Children in Bulgaria need to have better access to quality specialized legal aid as this is crucial to guarantee equitable access to justice

One of the most important prerequisites to ensure that children are better served and protected by the justice system is the access to free quality legal aid. Both preliminary consultation and consequent legal representation are instrumental in guaranteeing positive results for children in all proceedings concerning their life and wellbeing.

In cases of systematic child rights violations, strategic litigation is one of the ways to influence systematic changes in a timely and efficient manner.

The National Ombudsman and the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination as an Independent Human Rights Institutions play an important role in ensuring children’s access to justice

The National Ombudsman in its capacity as a National Preventive Mechanism monitors not only the correctional-educational facilities and the juvenile prison where children are deprived of liberty, but also all alternative care facilities, healthcare facilities and facilities for refugee and migrant children. The reports, observations and recommendations are instrumental in stopping child rights violations and ensuring legal remedies.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is another opportunity for children to seek redress for discrimination of any kind.

Solutions

UNICEF Bulgaria works in partnership with the Government, local authorities, professionals from the police, prosecutor’s offices and the courts, as well as the social services, bar associations, children and young people, civil society, media and business to ensure the right of every child to equitable access to justice.

Our efforts are aimed at:

Legislative change in accordance to international and European standards, so that the best interests of all children participants in legal proceedings are guaranteed, which includes:

- introducing adapted and child-sensitive procedures and appropriate environment for forensic interviews of children victims and witnesses of violence and crime that guarantee the aims of investigation are fulfilled and at the same time do not bring adverse consequences for the psychological recovery of children;

- introducing adapted procedures, which ensure the right of all children to be heard in all procedures dealing with their life and wellbeing – criminal, civil and administrative;

- introducing changes ensuring that children have access to free quality legal aid provided by the state;

- introducing diversion from criminal proceedings, the restorative justice approach and guarantees that pre-trial and trial detention and all forms of deprivation of liberty are measures of last resort and are implemented for the minimum period of time with regard to children in conflict with the law.

Strengthening the capacity of professionals

Introducing requirements for specialization for police officers, prosecutors, judges and lawyers working on matters involving children and developing training programmes and curricula for social workers, police officers, prosecutors, lawyers and judges. 

Strengthening the capacity of the Independents Human Rights Institutions to monitor child rights violations and ensure redress for violations of rights through trainings and exchange of experience. 

Communication for social change of attitudes regarding children in conflict with the law who need support and fair second chance

We work with media, professionals, young people and the general public to influence the discriminative attitudes, discourage stigmatization and create a social environment open to giving opportunities to young people for support, integration and positive change.