On the 16th and 17th of June, Chance for Childhood headed into London to participate in the International Summit on the Legal Needs of Street Children, hosted by the American Bar Association in conjunction with the law firm of Baker and McKenzie. Along with over 40 other development experts from around the world, as well as former street children and young ambassadors, we were invited to discuss a wide range of issues (such as child labour, substance abuse, petty crime, trafficking) in which the law has an impact on the lives of street children.
The summit was a perfect opportunity to share our experiences of working in East and Central Africa; focusing on how the law can empower street-connected children through quality inclusive education and employment. We believe that to develop interventions that really work, we must first and foremost understand the causes and factors that push or maintain children living on or in the street: poverty, violence, inflexible school systems and gender inequality are just some of them. And whilst it is paramount to work to prevent violations of their rights that force them onto the street, the strengthening of child protection systems through training of social workers and the police are also essential to addressing increased exposure to abuse, violence, child labour or trafficking. Rights-based approaches empowering children and young people (rather than dichotomous depictions of criminals vs. victims), are critical to break this exploitative cycle and aid their reintegration back into society, and in many cases back to their families. In Uganda, for instance, we support former child soldiers rejected by their families through a comprehensive package of rehabilitation including legal aid to help claim their land rights. In partnership with the UK and Ugandan Law Society, our legal aid unit also provides representation to children in courts whilst advocating for child-friendly justice systems through our Rights2Change Programme. In Kenya, we advocate for increased recognition of the special educational needs of street-connected children, often overlooked and frequently subjected to community scrutiny and stigma.
Nelson Mandela once said “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. We believe that this is particularly true for street-connected children.
Summits like this present a unique opportunity to enable not just development charities, but also law firms, human rights organisations, and international institutions dedicated to helping these children to come together to share and learn from one another, ensuring greater future progress on the combined effort of addressing children and young people’s needs.