JUSTICE: 'Children’s equitable access to justice in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia'

This report by UNICEF reviews the reasons why children may need to resort to justice; the avenues at their disposals – judiciary or not; and the extent to which these are adapted to children. The research was carried out with the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) in Albania, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Montenegro, including interviews with children, families and professionals.

Some of the key findings include:

- Most children whose rights are violated never seek redress:

  • Children and their families know little about child rights and where to seek redress. Caregivers also expressed the opinion that they lacked sufficient information to support children in accessing justice.
  • Access to justice for children is negatively affected by social and cultural beliefs: Social and cultural barriers were cited among the most serious obstacles for children seeking justice, by justice sector professionals as well as by children themselves and family members. The social and cultural barriers highlighted include the fear of negative consequences from the family, the community or justice sector actors. Findings highlight a cultural tolerance of violence. In the case of children, violence is considered a legitimate means to discipline and educate children for their overall benefit. Most children do not ask for help, possibly because their perceive violence as a normal phenomenon and do not see themselves as victims of abuse. Violence against children considered a fact of life, or legitimate disciplinary technique rather than a rights violation to be brought to court. Deeply entrenched social beliefs and patterns make it unacceptable for children to confide in an adult outside of the home about problems within the home, much less bring a complaint against a family member or community member. Across all four countries, children were categorical in their reluctance to complain about matters within the family, including violence, or to take any action without a parent’s permission.

- Children face the same obstacles in accessing justice as adults, plus other obstacles in addition as access to justice for children is largely affected by their age and dependent status. In most cases, children cannot initiate legal proceedings and must rely on adults to do so. Children depend on adults to receive information about their rights, to navigate and understand available remedies, and to access justice forums and mechanisms. Costs related to lawyers, court fees and transportation are obstacles that affect children disproportionately.

- Judicial and administrative procedures are generally not adapted to children.

  • Children are heard as if they were adults, often without legal assistance, faced with complex procedures that they don’t understand and that may last very long; too often, decisions are made without their best interests in mind.
  • Findings reveal that specialization is lacking or available only to limited professionals.
  • Special measures designed to protect children from harm during testimony are limited, and in-court witness protection measures are rare. Interview rooms, courtrooms and waiting areas are not adapted to children in either civil or criminal proceedings.
  • Legal advice and legal aid services often do not take into account the particular rights and needs of children, and the existing resources allocated to these are insufficient.
  • Psychological and social support services are neither foreseen by the legislative frameworks nor available in practice: the research shows that to non-legal support services is one of the weakest aspects in the provision of justice services for children.

-  Some groups of children are even more affected than others: the child with a disability, the Roma child, the child in detention or deprived of parental care – to name just a few of the most excluded children. 

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