Children’s access to justice refers to the general ability of children to obtain a remedy when their rights are being violated, not respected or denied. In other words, access to justice may relate to criminal, administrative and/or civil matters in diverse ways and for different reasons. This can apply, for example, to children accused of committing a crime; children who are a victim of or witnesses to a crime; children who are unable to access services like education or health care to which they are entitled; and children who are directly or indirectly part of legal proceedings that affect them, such as the divorce of their parents.
Access to justice
UNICEF is the region’s leading advocate for juvenile justice reform, but our approach goes beyond care for children accused of crimes: we also promote equitable access to justice for all children whose rights have been violated.
Children’s Access to Justice: what does this mean?
For some children in the Region, the pursuit of justice remains hampered by a lack of access to equitable and child-friendly justice systems and authorities that will make decisions in their best interests.
Although the total number of children in detention dropped by almost 60% in 11 countries and territories in Europe and Central Asia between 2006 and 2012, the full picture regarding child victims and witnesses is unknown, as administrative data systems do not tend to capture their stories. Gross underreporting of violence against children often renders their situation invisible.
Children in the Region who are already vulnerable and marginalized –including children from minority communities, children affected by migration, and children from poor families –are especially at risk of having their rights violated. They are more likely to be placed in detention, which is often the result of a track record of exclusion and a lack of effective child protection services which can address family problems.
Marginalized children lack information and redress.
Children from poor family backgrounds receive less information than others about their rights, are less likely to seek redress and have greater difficulties in paying for lawyers, court fees and transportation. Children with disabilities lack the communication aids and targeted support that would make it possible for them to participate in justice processes, while children from ethnic minorities, including Roma, experience stigma.
In parts of the Region, girls are more isolated than boys and therefore receive less information, while social norms make it even less acceptable for them to come forward in cases of abuse.
Children deprived of liberty face severe risks.
Children who come into conflict with the law are often seen as less ‘deserving’ than others, with their individual circumstances rarely taken into account. Most children under arrest in the Region have been accused of petty or non-violent offences, and some are placed in ‘protective custody,’ even though depriving children of their liberty should always be the very last resort.
Adolescent boys are more likely to be in juvenile detention facilities or to come into conflict with the law than adolescent girls. However, while there are fewer girls in the justice system, there are also fewer services and female police officers to meet their needs.
All children under arrest or in detention are at risk of severe violations of their rights. They may experience violence and even torture, with few opportunities to report these violations to authorities.
Children living behind closed doors, away from their families and often without external oversight, depend on the goodwill of those in charge and are among the most isolated young people in society.
Children deprived of liberty – whether they are in residential care or detention – have few ways to speak out about, or report, any abuses. The chances of their reintegration into the community after such experiences are slim, increasing the risk of sustained poverty and exclusion.
UNICEF is the region’s leading advocate for equitable access to justice for all children whose rights are being violated.
We believe that the best way to guarantee a child’s access to justice is to adapt justice and social welfare systems to their rights and needs.
UNICEF promotes equitable access to justice for all children, whether they are offenders, victims or witnesses. We promote new and more child-friendly approaches to justice across the region, characterized by a focus on all children – boys and girls – caught up in the justice system.
We also support tailored responses for every child whose rights are violated. This includes children accused of crimes, where loss of liberty should be the last resort and full rehabilitation into society the ultimate aim.
Our work includes advocacy and support for legislative and policy reform and the development of alternatives to child detention.
UNICEF contributes to progress on the number of children in detention.
UNICEF’s determination to reduce the rates and length of juvenile detention has helped narrow the equity gap in juvenile justice. Our work contributed to the 60 per cent fall in the number of children in detention between 2006 and 2012, according to a 2014 independent evaluation of progress on juvenile justice in the region.
Regional Conference on Children’s Access to Justice
25 – 27 February 2020
Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina
In collaboration with the Bosnia and Herzegovina State Ministry of Justice, UNICEF’s Europe and Central Asia Regional Office and UNICEF’s Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Office are organizing a Regional Conference on ‘Children’s Access to Justice.’ The conference is taking place, 25-27 February 2020, in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The overall goal of the conference is to take stock of what has been achieved over the past years in terms of justice for children reforms, to share good practices with a focus on victims and witnesses of crime and to urge for a greater focus on equitable access to justice. In this regard, the conference will highlight challenges, gaps and linkages between efforts to end violence against children and the justice system as well the opportunity to critically look at the gender dimensions of justice for children. It will highlight partnerships, to ensure boys and girls continue to benefit from ongoing reform efforts across the region, including those children that are on the move or seeking asylum.
The specific objectives of the conference are:
- To identify promising practices and to exchange information on justice for children reforms and access to justice practices across the region;
- To identify gaps and ways of strengthening interventions and services for children in contact with the justice system, especially victims and witnesses, children with disabilities and children on the move; and
- To pledge efforts towards strengthening child-friendly justice systems that sufficiently respond to the needs of all children in contact with the justice system, as well as measures for enhancement of equitable access to justice.
The three-day event will bring together around 160 participants consisting of government officials largely from the justice sector ministries and institutions and ministries responsible for social welfare. The intention is to strengthen the partnerships between these critical sectors and their interface on justice for children and access to justice matters. Other participants will be drawn from the international community, academia, and NGOs.
- List of participants (English / Russian)
- Agenda (English version / Russian version)
- Biographies (English version / Russian version)
- Background materials (English)
- Social media kit (English)
6.13. Presentation – BiH - Emir Prcanovic, Vasa Prava (English version)
6.14. Presentation – Moldova – Traian Turcanu (English version)
6. 19. Presentation – Armenia – Arpine Sargsyan (Russian and English version)
These resources on access to justice for children represent just a small selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.
Guidelines on Child-Firendly Legal Aid (2018) - UNICEF
Children’s Equitable Access to Justice: Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (2015) - UNICEF and IDLO
Prioritising access to justice for all children (2014) - UNICEF
Access to Justice for Children, An Evolving Concept (2015) - Prof. Asoc. Dr. Migena Leskoviku, Dr. Mirgen Prençe, Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) series: tools to support child-friendly practices.