Spotlighting the Invisible

Continental Conference on Access to Justice for Children in Africa
Addis Ababa | 8-10 May 2018 | #ChildJusticeAfrica

Annotated Programme Sessions

Session 1:  The status of child justice in Africa: trends, challenges and opportunities 

Based on long standing commitment to the advancement of access to justice for children in Africa, ACPF partnered with DCI to undertake a continental study on the status of access to justice for children in Africa in the run up to the Kampala Conference Child Justice in Africa in 2011. The study mapped the applicable normative and policy frameworks, as well as key developments in child rights protection on the continent. In 2017, ACPF instituted a follow up study to inform the current conference. The study takes stock of developments since the Kampala Conference, and takes note of new developments and emerging issues in the protection of access to justice for children in Africa. 

This session will entail a presentation of the findings of the 2017 study, and a discussion of the emerging challenges in the realisation of access to justice, trends in implementation of obligations under the right, and opportunities that can be seized upon to enhance access to justice for children in Africa.


Session 2:  Legal pluralism in Africa and its impact on access to justice for children in Africa 

Most African countries have more than one system of law which co-exist and apply on various aspects of life simultaneously. In a number of countries, these systems are constitutionally recognized and the hierarchy in their application is clearly set out. In other contexts, some of the systems are recognized, while other normative systems exist in an informal and unregulated space. The recognition of the application of customary and religious laws in personal and family matters is widely used. The coexistence of these legal systems often presents challenges in ensuring the uniform application of standards such as those related to the protection of the best interests of children. The existence of multiple legal systems also presents peculiar challenges for children’s pursuit of justice. 

This session will focus on understanding what, if any, are the jurisdictional, procedural and substantive points of difference between the statutory (formal), and customary justice systems; with a view to assessing how they affect access to justice for children in Africa. The session will explore the challenges and opportunities presented by the coexistence of the systems in relation to promoting access to justice for children.

Session 3:  Access to justice for children in the context of armed conflict 

Armed conflict is one of the persistent challenges in Africa, with a few countries plagued by conflict for decades. Whereas the number of armed conflicts has reduced significantly over the past 3 decades in Africa, the countries where conflicts still exist present particular challenges for children. The collapse of systems and institutions often means that there are large scale violations of the rights of children. The collapse of the institutions also means that access to justice is fundamentally compromised in these contexts since the stakeholders necessary to facilitate such access to justice are either non-existent or fundamentally incapacitated. For these reasons, the issue of access to justice for children in these contexts presents peculiar challenges. 

This session will approach children in armed conflict as a particularly vulnerable group that is eluded by justice. These children face various challenges consequent to the armed conflict including displacement resulting in loss of a home and loss of parental care. They face abuse including rape, torture and forced conscription as child soldiers. However, more often than not, their issues are only remedied when transitional justice mechanisms such as peace (truth) (justice) and reconciliation commissions are set up. Even then, their specific vulnerabilities are glossed over as they are lumped with all other victims of the conflict. The session will explore ways/measures that can be taken to ensure that children in the context of armed conflict have access justice for individual violations without delay, as well as ways in which mass violations of child rights are addressed in the post conflict justice measures.


Session 4:   General discussion on different aspects of vulnerability for children in accessing justice in Africa 

The conceptualization of ‘vulnerability’ in the context of child rights is complex and at times, controversial. The application of the concept has often been contextual and tailored to purpose. Hence, there is no universal understanding of what constitutes ‘vulnerable children’, despite the fact that a broad range of programming and interventions are often implemented on this subject within the child rights sector. To guide the subsequent discussion on vulnerability in the context of access to justice, this session will discuss the challenges in the conceptualization of vulnerability generally, and specifically in the context of access to justice. 

The session will respond to the questions such as what makes certain children particularly vulnerable in their pursuit of justice, and what measures can be taken to mitigate the impact of such vulnerability. It will also seek to identify systemic factors and risks that are intrinsic in mechanisms of justice and which have the potential to increase the vulnerability of children.


Session 5:   Access to justice for children with disabilities 

Disability is one of the factors that enhance the vulnerability of children in the realization of their rights and welfare generally, including the right to access justice. Whatever the perspective from which disability is understood, certain biological impairments that underlie disability present barriers in the interaction of the affected children with existing mechanisms of justice. Additional barriers also emerge from social understanding of the impairment in question. Inevitably, disability impacts upon the capacity of the children in question to access justice. 

This session will discuss the interaction of children with disabilities with the justice systems in Africa, whether as victims, defendants, accused, witnesses or subjects of care. The panelists will highlight the extent to which violations of the right to access justice by children with disabilities manifest, examples of the barriers that emerge and the system’s response to such barriers, as well as ways in which access to justice for children with disabilities can be enhanced. Such proposals will include practical measures and examples relative to accessibility (physical, procedural and substantive), and reasonable accommodation (e.g. improving physical accessibility of police stations and courts, removing communication barriers such as lack of sign language or interpretation and improving access to legal information on legal rights, legal aid and procedures in Braille, plain language or alternative formats that are relevant to them are welcome). The Session will, as far as possible) cover all forms of disability paying particular attention to the challenges experienced by children with intellectual and mental disabilities.


Session 6:   Criminalisation of Poverty: Vagrancy and related laws and their impact on children 

Vagrancy laws are one of the unfortunate relics of colonial laws in Africa. These laws predominantly target and criminalize idle and/or publicly disorderly behavior, which disproportionally affects poorer members of the society. In recent years, there is growing interest in the unjust nature and unjust implications in the application of these laws. Children from impoverished backgrounds, children deprived of a family background or otherwise living on the streets are often likely to be caught in the enforcement of vagrancy laws for loitering or idle behavior. This increases their likelihood of interacting with law enforcement and the judicial authorities. The enforcement of these laws also increases stigma attached to arrest, in the sense that it introduces a criminal element to their circumstances.

This session will interrogate how specific laws prohibiting vagrancy and loitering impact specific groups of children, in particular children living on the streets and child victims of sex trafficking.  Presentations will address access to justice for child victims of harassment by law enforcement officials, confiscation of belongings or tools of trade, the impact of loitering/vagrancy laws on the children’s freedom from detention and arbitrary arrest and how these factors aggravate the children’s delinquency resulting in their re-entry into the system as criminal offenders.

The range of children affected by the application of these laws is broad. However, while all children can be affected by vagrancy laws (whether directly or indirectly), child victims of sex trafficking and children living on the streets are the more typical victims. The particular circumstances of homelessness and exploitation also predisposes the children to criminal behavior. The response of the law to their plight is therefore of immense importance; in particular to understand whether the law deems the children as victims and therefore in need of care and protection, or treats them as offenders and therefore in need of a punitive response. The session will also propose ideas on how the justice system can respond appropriately to children in these circumstances in ways that enhance the protection of their rights.

Session 7: Technology and children’s access to justice: opportunities and challenges 

The past decade has seen tremendous and progressive technological advancements in all areas of life.  While not at the same level of internet penetration as the other regions of the world, Africa has also experienced a high speed of growth in this regard. As a result, internet access has opened pathways for communication between children in Africa and the world, thereby creating both opportunities and challenges for children. It has heightened the risk of abuse and exploitation of children and blurred the existing lines of protection as recognised in law.  As a relatively new frontier of child protection, the applicable laws and practices necessary to enhance protection are still nascent in most African countries.

This session will therefore interrogate the vulnerability of children to abuse in cyberspace, and how child victims of cybercrimes can access justice, as well as how justice mechanisms in Africa can leverage the power of technology to enhance access to justice for children in Africa.  In particular, the session will assess how African justice systems can respond to the emerging threats that technology poses to children’s lives, including how laws/policies can alleviate the challenge. The session will seek to showcase effective legislation where it exists and point to potential entry points for appropriate legislation.  The session will also highlight how technology can be harnessed to improve children’s access to justice e.g. reducing the number of times a child gives testimony by recording the testimony, or limiting the child’s presence in court by allowing them to broadcast their testimony remotely from a safe space etc.

Session 8:   Presentation of practical and successful models of facilitating access to justice for children 

One of the missing links in facilitating access to justice for children in Africa is the overemphasis on the failures that undermine access to justice and the lack of information on practical and effective models that work to enhance access to justice. There are indeed a number of interventions which have contributed significantly to enhancing access to justice in particular contexts.  This session will present practical examples of child justice delivery models that are working in African countries, with the view of creating interest in these models, and facilitating the transfer of the lessons to other African countries.

M E D I A  E N Q U I R I E S
Martin Atkin
Communications Consultant
Tel: +44(0)779 544 3607
G E N E R A L  E N Q U I R I E S
Nkatha Murungi PhD
Head, Children and the Law Programme, ACPF
Tel: +251 11 662 8192/96/97/99

Alex Kamarotos
Executive Director, DCI
Tel: +41 (0)22 734 05 58
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