The 3rd seminar of the Global Child Law Fellowship discussed best practices of lawyers and legal professions in the field of child rights protection and legislative advocacy. Six fellows have shared their best practices in child privacy protection in criminal cases, child participation in divorce cases and providing training for local community, among many other areas.
Irene Wambui Ndegwa
Irene shared one of her best practices in public interest litigation for children in Kenya. Irene represented a sixteen-year-old child charged with murder in 2016. Her efforts in defending the child resulted in legislative changes to the laws on data privacy for children in 2019. In the case, with regards to the publication of court records, Irene argued that this practice was a violation of children’s constitutional right to privacy and that children should be treated differently from adults in criminal proceedings. In Kenya, a certificate of good conduct is required for all essential matters including obtaining a job and driving, which means that the person has been searched in criminal records and no record has been traced for him or her. Publishing children’s court records would have the effect of punishing them for their misbehavior in childhood or adolescence and for what the law is intended to be lenient with. The Data Protection Act was subsequently enacted in 2019. The Act prohibits the processing of data relating to a child unless consent has been given by the child’s parent or guardian and the data is processed in a manner in the best interests of the child. Under the Act, the publication of court records relating to children is therefore prohibited. This is an example of advocacy efforts in legislation and policy for children’s data privacy from Kenya.
Joy Katunge Matheka
Joy, legal officer with Kenya Alliance Advancement of Children, summarized her best practices of carrying out child protection programs in Kenya into four parts.
First, collaborate with the government on helpful programs such as setting up helplines to answer inquiries from children and establishing children’s offices for activities advancing the interests of children.
Second, work closely with the bar association to form contacts that later can be instrumental in legislative and policy advocacy. There are numerous ways to build connections with the bar association, such as participating in committees with the bar and active involvement in public interest litigation.
Third, use the media to advance the protection of children. It can be social media or mainstream media. It can be publishing articles on important issues affecting children, authoring opinions, or online campaigns against content, behaviors or activities harming children.
Lastly, create partnerships with chief security officers working with children. Useful means include supporting children’s legal needs within institutions, supporting specific groups of children with special needs, such as refugees, children with HIV, etc., and training communities so that people can continue to train their fellow community members on child protection. Other means include working with religious institutions and contributing to research work.
Loise Cynthia Ndindi Nganga
Loise shared her best practices of training local communities on legal protections for children in Kenya. She said, first, disseminating information to older children can be helpful, especially for children aged ten to seventeen. A child protection lawyer can train and discuss with them so that they will be able to identify and report cases themselves or on behalf of their peers. Loise and her organization have been organizing such activities in collaboration with Mtoto News and at schools within their jurisdiction in Kenya. They have organized discussions on empowering girls at Kawangware Primary School. She believes the second important effort is to train parents, caregivers and guardians. They have been conducting outreach programs at Kahawa West and organizing discussions with caregivers at rescue centers as well as online discussions on Facebook and YouTube. She said, third, train community leaders and persons under duty so that they can know how to help children where this becomes necessary.
Vivian Nyaata Moraa
Vivian shared her best practice on child participation in divorce mediation in Kenya. Vivian and her team have been conducting research on child participation in divorce mediation in Kenya, South Africa and Australia and attempted to improve child participation in Kenya. First, it is important to understand why this practice is important. Listening to children in divorce cases is important for telling what their interests are and how to resolve a divorce case in their interests. For example, there might be abuse going on and the father might be teasing or neglecting the child so it would be in the child’s interest to live with the mother instead. This would also help the child understand that it is not his or her fault and adjust psychologically to the situation. Vivian and her team compare practices in Kenya to those in South Africa and Australia, where one can find very good institutions and infrastructure in this aspect, and make recommendations. They register the Child Voice Center and will start training professionals such as arbitrators beginning in January for how to actively involve children in divorce mediation.
Noemi Truya Abarientos
Noemi shared her best practices on legal assistance to children in the Philippines. The developmental legal aid framework developed by lawyers from the Philippines during the time of martial law has been very relevant from then till now, especially for children and marginalized groups. It affords guidance to Noemi and her fellows in their practices. Noemi introduced concepts in this framework, including that law is not neutral but man-made, and therefore can be remade for progress to address the needs of marginalized groups. Noemi and her team conducted legal assistance services under this framework, and provided accessible legal assistance to children, which is now online to avoid the transmission of Covid-19. They not only represent children in courts but also empower them under this framework to become advocates for their own and fellows’ rights afterwards. Noemi believes transforming victims into advocates is their best practice of empowering children.
Best practices from India. Deepika and her team have been actively making use of a piece of legislation (“the Information Act”) to gather data on child rights not previously available. The Information Act allows any citizen to write to any governmental body to ask for information that is not confidential. It is not alright, for example, to ask about military tactics but fine to ask for information in the public domain. Deepika and her team started a project based on this in 2019, gathering data from various parts of the country, to understand the chance of an offender getting convicted or acquitted in a child sexual abuse case. They found that only around 5% of the offender ended up in jail, a small percentage that showed there were problems going on. They tried to gather as much information as possible to understand why legal justice is not possible. Their project for 2022 is to conduct research, author papers, advocate to change the law, and make information transparent. They are also actively advocating for maternal benefits for girls becoming pregnant under the age of nineteen.