Justice for Children

States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society. (art. 40.1 UNCRC)

Click here to obtain general information on juvenile justice and children’s rights in juvenile justice.

13. DCI Uruguay + HC of Human Rights (1)

Through its persistent work over the past almost four decades – from participating in the drafting of the UN Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985) to the follow-up of the UNCRC’s General Comment No. 10 on Juvenile Justice (2007) – DCI has become the “go-to” nongovernmental organisation for leadership, experience, and technical expertise on Justice for Children.

DCI’s works to ensure that the conditions of children within justice systems to be internationally acknowledged; to place children within the frame of justice as a priority on international, regional and national agendas; and to see that national child-friendly justice systems are established, guided by the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and all other relevant international, regional, and national norms and standards.

Despite the increasing national and international attention on this issue, the level of political will to ensure compliance with international norms and standards remains low.  Pursuing the protection and respect of human rights of children involved in the justice system remains a huge challenge. DCI – with its multi-level structure – is in a unique position to change the situation of children in contact with the law, and to ensure all children are able to access justice on an equal basis.

DCI-IS is an active member of the Child Justice Advocacy Group and of Child Rights Connect’s Working Group on Children with Incarcerated Parents, which link key nongovernmental organisations working towards justice for children for the purposes of discussing and strategizing on common actions and critical issues. We also conduct advocacy with international and regional human rights mechanisms such as the Human Rights Council.

Through its National Sections, DCI has found that Socio-Legal Defence Centres (SLDCs) prove extremely effective in providing children with the opportunity to effectively access justice and obtain remedies. SLDCs proactively promote, and reactively protect, the human rights of children as codified in the UNCRC. SLDCs provide direct access to justice for children in conflict with the law, child victims and witnesses, and adults confronted with child rights violations.  These services are further accompanied by corresponding social and legal support in the form of: information provision, referrals to other service providers, psychological counselling, and free of charge legal advice and representation.

The United Nations Gobal Study on Children Deprived of Liberty




DCI’s main priority for the advancement of justice for children remains the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (GSCDL).

In 2014, DCI launched a campaign and lobbied for the UN General Assembly to pass, in a resolution, the request for a Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty to be commissioned – which ultimately proved a success (A/RES/69/157 para.52. d.). In 2017, DCI continued to play a key role in leading the way forward for the effective implementation of the Study by means of working with the Independent Expert for the Study and the United Nations to ensure “voluntary contributions” be provided in support of the Study’s realization. DCI, as co-convener of the NGO Panel for the Study (presently composed of 144 human rights organizations from across the globe), also worked closely within its NGO network to ensure the Study obtained support and was maintained as priority on political agendas. After a year spent largely on fundraising, the end of 2017 saw contributions by a number of member States, as well as a private foundations, supply funds for the Study’s implementation.

DCI’s flagship project, the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, forms a core part of our work on Justice for Children. Further information can be found here.

DCI-Belgium, DCI-Italy and DCI-Netherlands are working together to protect the rights of children deprived of their liberty through the project “My Lawyer, My Rights.” This project advocates for the proper implementation and effective monitoring of European directives on the right of the access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings; on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings; on the right to interpretation and translation; and on the right to information. In 2017, the role of the lawyer for children in the EU member states and their juvenile justice systems was mapped, and an online data base was created to enable easy access to this information. Throughout the year around 500 youth lawyers, officials and policy makers were trained via this project.

This post is also available in: FR, ES

Justice for Children

Justice for Children remains the overarching thematic priority of the DCI Movement.  Through its constant work over the past four decades – from participating in the drafting of the UN Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985), to the newUNCRC General Comment No. 24 on Children’s Rights in the Child Justice System (2019, available now in EN/FR/ES), and to the coordination of the NGO panel for the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (GSCDL) – DCI has always emphasised the importance of establishing leadership, experience, and technical expertise on justice for children.  

DCI’s long-term objectives as established in our Strategic Framework focus on ensuring that children’s rights are not only acknowledged internationally and nationally but that national child-friendly justice systems are established, guided by the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and all other relevant international, regional, and national norms and standards. 

When it comes to justice for children, DCI works on both sides of the coin, providing support and guidance for children whose rights have been/are being violated and for children in direct contact with the law.  However, DCI’s definition of “Justice for Children” goes well beyond child justice: from developing child protection systems, to preventative, rehabilitation and empowerment projects for children victims of violence, as well as fighting against gender discrimination, empowering children as actors, and advocating for their rights. 

© DCI – Sierra Leone

Through its national sections and with associated members, DCI provides direct socio-legal support to children through their Socio-Legal Defence Centres (SLDCs).  Children who come into contact with justice systems are often denied or unable to properly enjoy their rights.  At the same time, children whose rights are violated often face difficulties in accessing justice or remedies.  Without access to justice, however, there are no rights.  In response to this, DCI created an innovative model incorporating international children’s rights standards and child-friendly principles that is adaptable to address the most pressing issue affecting our national sections.   

DCI’s socio-legal defence centres actively protect and proactively promote children’s rights by acting as a referral pathway and conducting daily monitoring of children rights’ implementation.  Using a multi-disciplinary approach, the SLDCs provide training, technical assistance, and capacity building in addition to legal aid. 

 In addition to our national activities, DCI International Secretariat advocates for children and their rights within the justice system at the international level.  Along with other civil society partners and independent experts, DCI contributed to a joint submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Comment 24 (also known as the revision of General Comment 10 on children’s rights in juvenile justice systems).  The submission highlighted the importance, among other priorities, of the ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and its Optional Protocol as well as the establishment of National Preventative Mechanisms.  

 In November 2018, DCI-Belgium established the Child-Friendly Justice European Network (CFJ-EN), joined by many DCI sections and NGOs.  Its guiding principle is that there are no children’s rights without child-friendly justice and considers it necessary to adapt justice systems to the needs, capacities, and vulnerabilities of children. CFJ-EN’s work is grounded on the guidelines of the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice.  The network intends to collaborate with the Council of Europe and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights as well as the academic world and international organisations.   

Despite some progress, many countries lack information about the needs of children in contact with the law.  Governments often fail to align their national legislation with existing standards or to provide the child-friendly justice systems enshrined in the UNCRC.  Pursuing the protection and respect of the human rights of children involved in justice system remain a huge challenge.  DCI – with its multi-level structure – is in a unique position to change the situation of children in contact with the law and to ensure that all children can access justice on an equal basis.

DCI is an active founding member of the Child Justice Advocacy Group (CJAG).  The group unites key international nongovernmental organisations working in the field of justice for children— Terre des Hommes International Federation, Penal Reform International, Child Rights Information Network, Child Rights International Network (CRIN), World Organisation Against Torture, Justice studio., International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates. Regarding children recruited by ISIL, CJAG calls on all authorities to facilitate their rehabilitation and recovery.  CJAG’s position paper “Bringing Children Home” emphasises the rights of children set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and asserts that children must never be criminalised purely for their association with or membership in a terrorist group.

In collaboration with Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies’ Task Force on Justice, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, UNICEF, and other world-renowned partners, DCI forms part of Justice for Children, Justice for All Initiative (SDG16+), an interagency initiative that aims to leave no child behind within the context of achieving the SDGs.  The initiative highlights however that children are being left behind in the pursuit of SDG16 (on justice).

In response to challenges, a global Call to Action was launched at the heart of the “Justice for Children, Justice for All: The Challenge to Achieve SDG16+.”  The Justice for Children, Call to Action outlines a strategic vision that promotes children’s rights and allows them to reach their full potential as active members of society.  The Call to Action highlights the top ten critical impediments towards justice for children and emphasises the need for sustained political commitment.

Find here the Press Release 

Find here the brochure Justice for Children – Call to Action (Available in Spanish – French)



DCI-Palestine- “My name is Obaida.  I am from Arroub Refugee Camp north of Hebron. I am 15 years old and I like to cook. I have been arrested twice by Israeli forces. 

I started to think, why are we so different from other children in the world?  Why are we detained when we are young and made to suffer?  Why others are happy playing sports and with many opportunities that we don’t have?  Why are they like that and why are we like this?  To this day, no one can answer me.” 

Obaida, short film by Mathew Cassel, with DCI-Palestine’s cooperation. 

© DCI Award, 2019

See also: 

How we make a difference  


Related statements: 

 Interactive Dialogue   –  Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment EN 


This post is also available in: FR, ES