Legal assistance must not be viewed as a privilege - it is a human right.
Below are some examples of when legal assistance has helped children to defend, promote and protect their rights. Go to our legal assistance page for more information on what it is and how you can get it.
CCLC and the Howard League intervened in a case which challenged a law that meant 17-year-olds in police custody were treated as adults rather than children. The 17-year-old boy in this case was held in a London police station for 11 and half hours overnight on suspicion of robbery; he was denied the right to inform his mother of what had happened, and his mother was not allowed to speak to him. The High Court ruled that the failure to treat 17-year-olds as children was inconsistent with the CRC. Read our case summary.
South Africa: Children removed from their family home - the right to be heard
Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria and Lawyers For Human Rights
The Centre for Child Law and Lawyers for Human Rights assisted parents of children who had been removed from them by police and social workers to bring a case all the way to the Constitutional Court. The Court found for the parents, and said that decisions to remove children must be automatically reviewed by the Children’s Courts on the first court day following their removal. This decision provides children and their families with an opportunity to explain their side of the story to the Children’s Court, and allows an incorrect decision that could otherwise have devastating consequences to be overturned. Read our case summary.
India: Trafficking of children and the worst forms of child labour
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Child Movement) (BBA)
BBA filed a public interest petition under the Indian Constitution concerning the serious violations and abuse of children who were trafficked into and forcefully detained in circuses in India. The Court found that the Government was fully aware that children were forced to work in circuses and elsewhere, and ordered, among other things, that:
- the employment of children in circuses be prohibited;
- raids be conducted on all circuses to liberate the children and examine the violations of their rights;
- the rescued children be kept in Care and Protective Homes until they are 18; and
- the state frame a proper scheme for rehabilitation of rescued children from circuses.
Read our case summary.
Paraguay: Juvenile detention conditions
Fundación Tekojojá and The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Fundación Tekojojá and CEJIL submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights challenging the conditions in which young people were held in the Instituto de Reeducación del Menor (Institute of Re-education for Minors), a juvenile detention centre. Between August 1996 and July 2001, the Institute was overpopulated by 50 per cent, detainees were kept in their cells for most of the day without recreational activities, hygiene was poor, and there were no doctors or psychologists available for the detainees. Furthermore, there were three fires at the Institute killing nine detainees. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that there were various violations of the American Convention on Human Rights, ordered reparations for victims, and established minimum standards of care for young people in conflict with the law held in state custody. Read our case summary.
Kenya: Mandatory detention of children
The CRADLE (The Children Foundation)
The CRADLE successfully sought an order from the High Court to stop the mandatory detention of children charged with serious offences such as murder. This was a strategic litigation children’s rights case (read our guide to strategic litigation) involving a 12-year-old girl charged with the murder of a two-year-old child, for whom the prosecution had sought a death sentence and denied the right to bail. The Court found that the provisions of the Children Act applied to the girl’s case, recognising that children, must be considered as a “special class” of society. Accordingly, the girl was not to be sentenced to death and was entitled to be released on bail in circumstances where she had been held in police custody for a period exceeding the statutory limit of six months.
United States: Discrimination in school disciplinary actions
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
The ACLU represented Native American students and their families in the settlement of a class action suit against a school district. The school district had discriminated against Native American students by disproportionately targeting them for disciplinary action, maintaining an educational environment hostile toward Native American families, and forcing students to write confessions for school misconduct that were later used in juvenile and criminal prosecutions. Under the settlement agreement reached by the parties, the district agreed to enact policies and practices to ensure that the rights of Native American students are not violated and to enrich the educational experience of all students.
United States: Legal assistance for young people at parole hearings
Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC)
Launched in January 2010, CFJC attorneys and students represent incarcerated youth at their parole revocation hearings through the Parole Revocation Representation Project. Prior to CFJC taking on these cases, there were no attorneys provided for these children. Since the advent of the pilot, CFJC attorneys and students have represented over 150 young people, securing their release 83% of the time.
Thailand: Legal clinic for stateless children
In 2010 Plan Thailand launched a law clinic programme to empower stateless children in Thailand. The clinics are run at Plan partner schools and aim to inform stateless children and young people (aged 13 – 20) about their legal rights, specifically their right to apply for a birth certificate under the Civil Registration Act of 2008. As of March 2012, 120 youth leaders from nine schools in Chang Rai and Chang Mai provinces have been trained in the steps necessary to navigate Thailand’s complex bureaucracy, and are now better equipped with the knowledge to spread awareness about children’s rights among at least some of the estimated 44,000 stateless children in Chang Rai and their parents.
FAR’s Children’s Support Center, PRI and CSI run a joint project called the ‘Promotion of modern concepts in the administration of juvenile justice in Armenia’ with the aim of promoting and protecting the best interests of the child and children’s rights in the juvenile justice system. The project focuses on diversion schemes, rehabilitation, and legal and social support for juveniles in detention, raises awareness of children’s rights, and promotes legislative reform of national laws in conformity with international standards.
Canada: Legal services for “street-involved” youth
Justice for Children and Youth
Justice for Children and Youth runs Street Youth Legal Services, a programme that provides legal information, advice and referrals to “street-involved” youth (those who are homeless, or marginally housed and spend the majority of their time on the streets) through workshops and individual consultations. The programme delivers legal services directly to young street-involved people in drop-in centres and shelters, and educates young people about the value of the law to empower even the most vulnerable citizens.
Australia: Online legal assistance for children
National Children’s and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC)
NCYLC runs two programmes - Lawmail and LawStuff - that respectively provide free legal advice via email and information to children, young people and their advocates across Australia on a range of legal issues, including criminal law, child abuse, sex and relationships, bullying, discrimination, and employment.