ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Advocating for Children

covered by the contributors. The editors Creative Child Advocacy

Advocating for Children

Creative Child Advocacy – Global Perspectives

edited by Ved Kumari and Susan L Brooks; Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004; pp 347, Rs 380.

NEELA DABIR

C
hildren in most countries remain a vulnerable and under-represented group having the least power to make their voices heard. They are almost totally dependent on adult structures of political and economic power for safeguarding and protecting their rights and well-being. Child rights activists across the globe recognise the need for continuous efforts for advocacy for children. This book is a culmination of a project begun by a group of the members of Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE), at its inaugural conference in Thiruvananthapuram. It is a compilation of original essays written by prominent child advocates having different professional training and experiences such as law teachers, social workers and activists across the globe.

The book highlights the challenges or needs of the children in different countries along with positive solutions and successful interventions on behalf of the children and youth. A range of issues like child labour, international custody, juvenile delinquency, school suspensions and expulsions and teen dating violence are covered by the contributors. The editors have succeeded in getting a global view of creative strategies for child advocacy by including a variety of projects from Asia (Pakistan, India, China), Europe (England and Poland), North America (the US), west Asia (Israel) and Africa (Kenya).

The introductory chapter sets a tone for the book by appraising the readers to the disaggregated picture of the world’s children and a journey through the historical developments in the field of child rights. The current status of implementation of the provisions of Convention of Child Rights (CRC) document also varies from country to country. In 2001 SAARC initiated the “Decade of the Rights of the Children”. So the struggle to ensure a better world for children is a continuing one. The author highlights the efforts of different national as well and international bodies in creating a “world fit for children”. She also gives us an overview of micro and macro level child advocacy initiatives by individuals, and organisations around the world and the range of advocacy strategies that are found to be successful.

The book makes for very interesting reading for people in general and child advocates in particular. It not only helps to gain information on projects across the world, it gives a message of hope as well. These experiences bring forth many important dimensions of child advocacy efforts. One notices the universal nature of the need for child advocacy, irrespective of the development index of the country.

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006 The most important step in advocacy is to select an appropriate strategy to achieve one’s goal. The selection process should be based on the analysis of the opportunities and constraints in the light of the political and cultural environment of the place. Although the culture specific approach is important, striving for effective implementation of CRC seems to be a major goal, cutting across all these projects. While reading through this book, one can observe that in the 1990s most countries started the process of revising the legal instruments for child protection and made appropriate changes to match the principles of CRC.

The different articles in the book are divided into four parts. The first part includes court-based and dispute resolution strategies. The second part highlights legislative strategies and social movement for child advocacy. The third part focuses on the community education and street law strategies and the last part describes some of the integrated strategies for child advocacy.

In the court-based and dispute resolution strategies, we come across programmes from England, India and China. The usefulness of guardian ad litem service in England and Wales in public law cases, is highlighted by Tess Duncan. Through a few case illustrations she has demonstrated how the guardian and solicitor tandem model provides appropriate balance through a synthesis of rights and welfare for vulnerable children subject to crucial decisions by the courts. Ved Kumari in her article titled ‘Advocacy for Delinquent Children through Courts’, gives an account of three court cases related to violation of children’s rights in India. These three cases are concerned with the illegal detention of 1,400 children in different jails, publishing a photo of a child alleged to have committed an offence and a review petition on behalf of an accused, a young person sentenced to death for multiple murders. From these examples, one can understand how difficult yet important it is to pursue such matters of macro as well as micro level violations in order to strive for justice on behalf of the affected children. There is a need for sustained and continuing struggle and such efforts often require partnership with like minded people.

The second part very effectively highlights the diversity of country specific issues related to legal provisions for child protection and child rights, e g, in Kenya, child sexual abuse is one of prime concerns as the law places a higher premium on property, however small it may be, than on the lives of women and children. Kenyan law divides rape into three categories depending upon age of the victim, and the victim’s relation with the offender. Each type of rape is seen as a separate criminal offence incurring different maximum sentences. The law considers the rape of a younger person as less severe and hence awards lower sentences. It also places family cohesion above the child’s protection (pp 138-39). Child rights advisory and documentation centre (CRADLE) has taken a leading role in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse in Kenya. CRADLE and other NGOs are instrumental in law reforms related to children.

Child Abduction

The issues related to international child abduction by one of the parents after divorce, are mostly affecting children and parents in the developed countries. The provisions under the Hague Convention are seen to be ineffective in establishing the rights of the parents to have custody and/or access to their children. In cross frontier abductions, it is often difficult to secure the safe return of the children and to protect them from psychological damage. The efforts of the organisation, Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT), are quite unique and encouraging. This organisation was initiated by one of the affected parents from US and it has been successful in creating awareness about the difficulties faced by parents and abducted children. They have built a pressure group for making it a matter of political concern. They have played a lead role in convincing the governments of different countries to agree to the production of a “Good Practice Guide”. PACT intends to expand its international campaign for better laws to protect children, and encourage international cooperation.

In part three, the articles highlight the effectiveness of community education and street law strategies. We come across a different issue addressed by a project from England. Here the child advocacy workers identified the need to educate the children and young adults about their rights while going through the court proceedings. Whilst the department of health had produced some good general leaflets about the children’s act and the courts, not all children subject to public law proceedings had access to them. There was a lack of understanding that children and young people needed to be informed about the new developments and needed assistance with putting their wishes into practice. Project “Power Pack” is a project of developing a set of materials for children undergoing public law proceedings in order to help them to make informed choices about the services that affect them. They have developed two age specific packs. The most significant aspect of this project is the involvement of children’s representatives throughout the process. The other two essays in this part deal with early intervention strategies in cases of domestic violence faced by teenagers in US and socio legal aspects of child abuse prevention efforts in Poland.

In the fourth part, the readers are introduced to the integrated strategies adopted by child advocates in India and Pakistan. The first article in this part tries to conceptualise the concept of child advocacy. The author describes child advocacy as an effort to swim against the tide. He draws parallels between the two experiences and also highlights how child advocates inevitably engage into oppositional politics. The articles describing strategies for elimination of child labour in India and role of SPARK, an NGO in Pakistan in establishing a juvenile justice network for the betterment of juvenile justice system in two provinces in Pakistan are very useful in understanding the country specific issues.

The book is unique in many ways. It definitely raises awareness about effective child advocacy strategies across the world. One realises that the issues related to child rights violation have different dimensions and their nature is culture specific. Nevertheless, one does get a message that the need for child advocates is equally important across regions and the task is not simple. The sharing of experiences of successful and creative child advocacy through this book will definitely motivate a large number of child advocates who are grappling with a large number of hurdles while working towards protection of child rights in their respective countries.

The NGOs as well as government machinery in most countries is geared towards fulfilment of their commitment to the protection of child rights but there is dearth of contemporary information and documentation of different practice oriented models of child advocacy across the globe. In this context the contribution of this book is highly appreciated.

EPW

Email: dabir_neela@hotmail.com

Economic and Political Weekly April 8, 2006

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