Through its National Sections worldwide, DCI has found that Socio-Legal Defence Centres (SLDCs) are effective in providing boys and girls with the opportunity to effectively access justice and obtain remedies.

The work of SLDCs consists in actively offering children in conflict with the law, child victims and witnesses, as well as adults confronted with child rights violations direct access to justice and quality social-legal support, including:

  • information;
  • referrals to other services;
  • psychosocial counselling and;
  • free-of-charge legal advice and representation – including in court.

29.300 children benefited from DCI’s socio-legal services in 2016.

Defining the best interests of the child remains subjective as with each child variables depend on internal (physical and psychological) and external factors (lifestyle and personal family circumstances).

SLDCs provide a holistic framework to help ensure that the best interests of the child are taken into account by decision-making bodies and authorities. Deciding the best interests of the child involves a process of evaluating and balancing elements with the support of the SLDC multidisciplinary team and direct child participation.

The inclusionary, or participatory principle, involves considering the child as an active subject and rights-holder and not merely an indirect recipient. The level of participation is determined according to the child’s capacities.

Article 12 of the UNCRC states the right of the child to ‘express views freely in all matters’. This right to be heard entails the obligation to listen, which the SLDC model ensures, along with facilitating the child’s active and adequate participation, which ultimately leads to further empowerment and ownership of his/her rights.

SLDCs receive individual complaints from children, or adults reporting child rights violations. SLDCs act as an important reference-point for the national judicial system, as adequate legal / social services are often lacking in many countries.

SLDCs follow a ‘child-in-context’ approach, with case management going beyond the legal sphere (social, educational, etc.). The multidisciplinary team at the SLDC proves crucial in gaining more holistic knowledge of the child and applying the best-interests and inclusionary principles to build a just case and empower the child.

As a centralized and child-focused service, SLDCs are in the best position to inform and educate government and the general public (children and adults alike) on children’s rights.

SLDCs lobby for the general amelioration of policies, laws and practices inherent to child protection, identify violations (policy advocacy), and lobby for non-existent services and entities that are required (systematic advocacy).

This post is also available in: FR, ES