Unicef and DLA Piper join forces to tackle child justice challengesSeptember 2014
UNICEF and international law firm DLA Piper have established a pioneering partnership focused on improving the quality of care and protection for children who come into contact with judicial systems.
No justice system in the world is perfect but for children caught on the wrong side of the law in Bangladesh, one of Asia’s poorest countries, the experience can be harrowing.
Masood* (aged 17 and student) was only 15 years-old when he witnessed a theft and assault committed by a neighbour in one of the poorest areas of Khulna, a city located in south-western Bangladesh.
This terrifying event led to him being arrested and beaten, before being detained in an adult jail and later spending a month in a Juvenile Detention Centre. Masood was eventually freed following the intervention of a local Child Protection Committee located in his area. It was an ordeal he will never forget.
“Because it was winter I was suffering, as I didn’t have enough warm clothes and I was surrounded by seasoned adult criminals who were smoking”, says Masood. “The conditions in the prison were bad. It was a bad experience.”
Masood is one of the many young beneficiaries of an innovative partnership that brings together the child protection expertise of UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation, with the legal knowhow of DLA Piper one the world’s leading law firms.
Cases such as Masood’s have led UNICEF and top international law firm DLA Piper to establish a pioneering partnership focused on improving the quality of care and protection for children who come into contact with judicial systems.
DLA Piper is providing the UK Committee for UNICEF with pro bono assistance to the value of US$5m in support of UNICEF’s child justice work in countries worldwide. The firm has pledged to raise a further US$1.5 million for child protection programmes in countries around the world including Bangladesh.
The partnership is being championed by Tony Angel, the firm’s Global Co-chair who recently returned from an exposure trip to Bangladesh. It will initially support the expansion of UNICEF’s child justice work in the country and aims to improve standards of care and protection for young people who come into contact with the law as victims, witnesses or offenders.
“I saw first-hand what currently happens when children come into contact with the justice system in Bangladesh and frankly it is grim”, says Angel.
“High levels of poverty continue to push many children onto the streets, where they often get caught up in an inadequate and inappropriate justice system.
“There are 68m children in Bangladesh, so the scale of these challenges is enormous. The UNICEF-supported projects that DLA Piper is funding are helping to put in place the legal, social and organisational frameworks that will better protect these children.”
While Bangladesh has introduced the 2013 Children Act and made demonstrable progress in tackling a host of development issues affecting many of the country’s most vulnerable children, its justice system is still burdened by many child protec most vulnerable children, its justice system is still burdened by many child protection challenges including :
• Children arrested for minor crimes can be confined in a jail cell with adult prisoners facing the risk of violence or abuse though it is prohibited by law.
• Many child victims are deprived of liberty as a way to provide them with safe custody.
• Limited use of measures without resorting to formal judicial proceedings (diversion) For a country with a child population of 68 million, a figure larger than the entire number of people in the UK.
In response to these issues and with funding from DLA Piper, UNICEF is helping to strengthen the services that have been set up to protect the rights of children who are in conflict with the law, and those who are most at risk of falling into crime. Projects currently reach children residing in Khulna’s impoverished railway slum of Khulna and some of the city’s poorest areas.
Key activities supported by UNICEF include:
•Establishing diversion measures
•Establishing Child Protection Committees within local communities to help intervene in cases where children have come into contact with the law
• The provision of training committee members to help children caught on the wrong side of the law to be reintegrated back into their communities.
• Providing training in life skills to children who have been caught up in the justice system and helping them to rebuild their lives.
In addition, DLA Piper lawyers have been providing guidance to UNICEF staff and government officials working on the drafting of the rules to be implemented as part of the country’s 2013 Children Act. The Act incorporates provisions on minimum care standards for children who find themselves in care and juvenile justice institutions. “This global partnership is a unique opportunity for us to combine DLA Piper’s extensive resources and the expertise of our people with UNICEF’s local knowledge and global authority on the rights of children”, Angel added.
“As lawyers, the right to justice is something we feel very strongly about. We are proud to be able to use our skills to help address a significant global issue with the aim of making a positive impact for future generations.”
*A pseudonym has been used for the teenage boy mentioned in this case study.
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