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UNICEF: Justice still out of reach for millions of children


GENEVA — Millions of children across the globe have their rights violated, but only a few are able to seek recourse to improve their situation in a timely, fair and effective way, UNICEF said today.

Violations include children being denied their right to quality health care and education and their right to protection from abuse, violence and exploitation – sometimes perpetrated by those closest to them.   Without access to justice, children cannot take their rightful place in society.

UNICEF today urged governments to recognize that children face special barriers in pursuing justice for violations of their rights. Simply extending measures designed for adults is not sufficient. Special protection measures for children are paramount. 

“Equitable access to justice means ensuring that all children are served and protected by justice systems,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “But children still face tremendous barriers.”

“Most countries’ social norms make it culturally and socially unacceptable for children to lodge complaints without parental consent – the idea of access to justice is inconceivable even to the children themselves,” she added.

Ms. Poirier spoke as a panel member at the Annual Full-Day Meeting on the Rights of the Child at the 25th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. This is the first-ever event at the Human Rights Council dedicated to children’s access to justice and the role it can play in empowering children to claim their rights. 

All children face barriers in accessing justice but children with disabilities, children from ethnic minorities, and girls generally face more challenges than others.

Access to justice for all children is far reaching in many aspects of their lives. It can challenge decisions to separate children from their parents. It can restore social benefits that support families in caring for their children and undo discriminatory decisions stigmatizing ethnic or religious groups. It can also bring children back to school and provide them with health care where these rights were denied.

Another important aspect of the discussion is society’s obligation to make justice systems child-sensitive, in line with international standards. Ms. Poirier cited examples of progress, including adapting court settings and police stations to make them less intimidating. Police officers, judges and magistrates are being trained to communicate with children in a sensitive manner and protective measures are being put in place, such as avoiding direct contact between the child and the alleged perpetrator.

A new UNICEF publication, Insights: Child rights in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia - Promoting equitable access to justice for all children recommends expanding efforts to make justice systems child-sensitive and to empower families and children to:

  • benefit from adapted procedures implemented by trained professionals; 

  • receive legal and social advice through child rights centres or legal clinics and understand their rights to protection under the law;

  • obtain information on the avenues for redress such as ombudspersons’ office or other administrative offices, as well as informal fora; 

  • be referred to appropriate services (e.g. a lawyer, doctor or psychologist); or

  • in some cases, receive direct legal assistance to initiate a judicial process.


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work please visit


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