Sierra Leone has been ranked as 94th in the world on how effectively children can use the courts to defend their rights according to new research from Child Rights International Network (CRIN).

African School Children

The new report, ‘Rights, Remedies and Representation’, takes into account whether children can bring lawsuits when their rights are violated, the legal resources available to them, the practical considerations for taking legal action and whether international law on children’s rights is applied in national courts.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not take precedence over national law in Sierra Leone but was incorporated in its entirety by the Child Rights Act of 2007.

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In general civil litigation, to bring a case before a domestic court, a child must act through a next friend or guardian at litem, who at the same time needs to be represented by a solicitor.

Next friends or guardians at litem can be changed for “good cause” by court order, and their representation ceases when the child attains the age of 21.

The High Court Rules of 2007 allow for class litigation, even without naming individual victims, in cases concerning the construction of a written instrument. Group litigation is also a possibility, though individual victims must be identified.

Achieving access to justice for children is a work in progress and the report represents a snapshot of the ways children’s rights are protected across the world.

The report condenses findings from 197 country reports, researched with the support of hundreds of lawyers and NGOs and is intended to help countries improve access to justice for children nationally.

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Director of CRIN, Veronica Yates, said: “While the report highlights many examples of systems poorly suited to protecting children’s rights there are also plenty of people using the courts to effectively advance children’s rights.

“Our ranking represents how well States allow children access to justice rather than how well their rights are enshrined. However, it is hard to ignore how many countries with deplorable human rights records are on the lower end of the ranking for children’s access to justice.”

In the foreword of the report the chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Benyam Dawit Mezmur said: “The Committee welcomes this research and already envisages its concrete contribution to its various engagements with State Parties.

“Child rights standards in international instruments do not mean much for the lived reality of children if they are not implemented.

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In particular, if the fundamental rights of children are violated, it is critical that children or those acting on their behalf have the recourse, both in law and in practice, to obtain a remedy to cease, prohibit and/or compensate for the violation.

“I hope this study is only the beginning of a new shift in making access to justice for children a priority that will enable other rights to be fulfilled.”