While many authorities can tolerate some traditional campaigning methods, it is usually harder to ignore the law. As part of broader campaigns, the law can be a powerful tool for achieving the changes that children need. Legal advocacy is now being used systematically in a few countries – leading to strong outcomes for children – and it has great potential for wider use.
There are many occasions for legal advocacy. International law sets out the principles and standards that states areobliged to meet but frequently do not, and so their domestic law violates children’s rights. Often, a State meets a standard in domestic legislation but its policy fails to implement the law. Sometimes, it is unclear what a law means in practice, or the meaning is clear but no one knows whether it is being implemented. These various gaps between international legal standards, domestic law and state policy (or corporate policy) present potential opportunities for legal advocacy.
There are also many avenues for legal advocacy. It is a broad term, not limited to taking rights violators to court. Many small-scale legal activities can enhance traditional campaigning, such as reporting on the implementation of a law, or raising awareness of what the law says. Sometimes, simply documenting and publicising the gaps between law and practice is enough to persuade decision-makers to act. But only sometimes. Towards the other end of the spectrum is work that demands more time and resources, including taking a government or corporation to court in order to bring broader social change. A successful case might improve the legal standards that apply to children, or lead to a major policy change of long-term benefit to children.
As with all campaigning, the outcomes of legal advocacy are always uncertain, but it has helped to secure many of the rights that children enjoy today. Among the many examples are preventing the exploitation of children for labour in Liberia, strengthening protections for children against sexual abuse in India, and introducing new laws and policies to prevent corporal punishment in several European countries. Often, children and their families have stood as witnesses in court, or brought cases directly with the support of NGOs and lawyers working for free (pro bono). CRIN’s website includes many stories of litigation for and by children.
They show what can be achieved, as well as how much remains to be done as children continue to live in jeopardy around the world.
This introductory guide offers a brief overview of avenues for legal advocacy. It also offers guidance on how to explore your options, and how to promote legal advocacy work with other children’s rights advocates. This is the first version of the guide, so please let us know what you think of it, and send us any suggestions for improvements – thank you.