ACCESS TO JUSTICE
Another key part of Goal 16 is the principle of access to justice.
SDG 16.3 “Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all”
Our SAFEChild project also works to support children who have experienced abuse to gain justice, should they choose to do so. We provide free legal advice to the children and their families, we help them to report cases of abuse to the police, and we support them through all aspects of the court case – preparing the legal documents needed, advising them on the process, transporting them to court, and representing them. There isn’t a functioning legal aid system in Nigeria, sothis support is absolutely vital if these children are ever to receive justice for what has happened to them.
One of the problems that we face with this area of work is that the judicial system and the police are ineffective. The police often don’t have the knowledge or resources to properly investigate cases. Even when cases get to court, it can take years for the case to finally be heard, which is incredibly stressful for the children and their families. It also means the work is hugely resource intensive because we have to keep going back to court again and again until the case is finally heard.
One case we are currently pursuing involves the rape of a nine-year old child. Even though the suspect was arrested and charged quickly, the court hearings keep being adjourned – our legal team has had to attend court 17 times in the last 18 months, and we have still not had the judgement. And this case is relatively quick compared to some – we have cases of severe child rights abuse that have been ongoing in the courts for nearly four years.
But this legal work is having an effect. Our team made history by gaining the first ever successful prosecution for child rights abuse in the Family Court of Cross River State back in 2011, for a child who was burnt with a hot knife as a punishment for misbehaving. And we’ve had other legal successes since then in cases of sexual abuse, violence, and neglect. It takes perseverance, patience and resources – but it has a hugely positive effect. For the children, it is recognition that what has happened to them is wrong and is not tolerated. For the wider community, it strengthens the rule of law and demonstrates that children cannot be abused with impunity. This legal work is crucial in order to reduce and ultimately end abuse of children.