European Union and UNICEF join forces for child-friendly justice in West Africa

The European Union allocates €7.89 million for three years to help UNICEF improve access to justice for children on the move and other vulnerable children in six countries in West Africa

Dakar, 17 February 2022. The European Union and UNICEF are joining efforts to improve access to justice and support the provision of child protection services for 41,389 children on the move, children victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, and children in conflict with the law in a three-year programme (2021–2024) covering Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.

“Protecting children’s rights is critical to ensure children grow with the best possible opportunities and can look at their future with confidence. Improved access to an adapted justice system can make a real difference in the lives of many vulnerable children. For the European Union, protecting children on the move, regardless of their status or stage in the journey, is a priority”, says European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen.

“Access to justice is a major issue for children on the move and other vulnerable children in Western Africa. The practice of detention continues despite it being contrary to children’s rights, and evidence that shows it has negative effects on girls’ and boys’ development. The detention of children, whether unaccompanied or travelling with their family, is never in their best interests and is a violation of their rights. It must therefore be avoided at all costs. UNICEF is working with government authorities and other partners to reimagine justice for children in West Africa to strengthen the capacities of national and civil society authorities to swiftly identify, refer and support unaccompanied and separated children (including those on the move); and to strengthen justice systems in favour of a child rights approach which includes alternatives to detention for all children” says Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

Thanks to the €7.89 million European Union grant and working with regional, national and sub national authorities, communities, service providers, families and children themselves, UNICEF will promote multisectoral service provision to children in contact with the justice system, including access to child-friendly justice with a rights-based approach.

The three-year programme is expected to:

Help ensure that legislation and policies are in place to prevent the immigration detention of children on the move and the unnecessary pre- or post-trial detention of children on the move and other vulnerable children.
Enhance access to appropriate family, community-based care, and guardianship mechanisms for unaccompanied children/adolescents on the move and other vulnerable children.
Enhance access to quality, age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and child-friendly justice services for children in detention, children in conflict with the law, and children at risk of or having experienced violence, abuse and exploitation, including children on the move and vulnerable children.
Strengthen the capacities of child protection service providers, community-based frontline actors and frontline workers to facilitate access for unaccompanied children, including children who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence, to basic services that focus on their specific needs.
Many children on the move lack knowledge about their rights or existing support networks. They experience language or other barriers that make them even more vulnerable, while separation from their parents or caregivers creates additional challenges to their ability to access justice. Many such vulnerable children are particularly at risk of pre-trial detention, incarceration with adults and exposure to violence and abuse, including psychological or sexual.

In October 2021, an estimated 11 million children were on the move in West and Central Africa, including 7.6 million internally displaced, 1.2 million refugee and 2.2 million international migrant children.

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