Legal case studies

The stories behind children’s rights cases

CRIN's case studies illustrate how strategic litigation works in practice by asking the people involved about their experience. We aim to cover a wide range of violations and jurisdictions, and publicise little-known cases. From reporting on cases challenging the death penalty and access to education, to those involving forced marriage and corporal punishment, we hope to learn from lawyers and campaigners from across the globe so we can effect positive change in the future.

By sharing these stories we hope to not only raise awareness of challenges to children’s rights violations around the world, but also give you the tools to challenge similar violations where you live.  

Nigeria: A child bride, a dead husband and a long battle

Accused of murdering her husband of five months when aged just 13, Maimuna Abdulmumini was sentenced to death by a court in Nigeria. After a legal battle lasting six years, lawyers from Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) successfully worked to secure a reprieve, but her future remains uncertain.

Kenya: Nubian children and the struggle for citizenship

Nubians have lived in Kenya for more than a century, but are not considered Kenyan nationals. As such, they face serious restrictions when it comes to gaining access to basic amenities like health care and education. In the case of Nubian Minors v. Kenya, the second-class status of Nubians in Kenya was challenged.

United Kingdom: Changing the way the police treat teens in custody

17-year-olds occupy a strange place in English law. They can't drink or get married without their parent's consent, but the moment they enter police custody, they are treated like an adult. This is the story of one London teenager who looked to challenge this legal anomaly in the High Court, and the campaign he helped set in motion.

Australia: Baby Ferouz and the children kept behind bars

Born in Brisbane to asylum seeker parents in November 2013, Baby Ferouz has spent his life moving from detention centre to detention centre. In October 2014, a federal court judge ruled that both he and his family had no right to stay in Australia. Lawyers for Ferouz and other Australian-born babies of people seeking asylum challenged the government's plan to send them to a notorious detention centre, thousands of miles from the mainland.

India: A toddler’s 18-month wait for justice

Amal* was three-years-old when she was raped by a neighbour in the Delhi slum she lived in with her family. What followed was a brutal cross-examination by defence lawyers, staggering incompetence from the legal system and extensive medical procedures. Her mother, a 24-year-old construction worker from Bihar, fought tirelessly for justice for her daughter in a case that went all the way to the Delhi High Court.
*The name of the child victim has been changed to protect her identity.

Liberia: Firing back at Firestone

By the early 2000s, Harbel, Liberia, a town founded by giant American tyre manufacture Firestone, had become synonymous with child labour. A legal case brought against Firestone by 23 workers garnered massive media attention and led to significant changes at the 220 square mile rubber plantation which thousands of labourers called home.

Ireland: ‘Nothing is going to change the past, but we can protect the children of the future’

Louise O’Keefe was eight years-old when she was sexually abused by her school principal. It would take her 40 years and a lengthy legal battle with the Irish state for her to get justice. This is her story.

South Africa: Teenagers no longer prosecuted for kissing or consensual sex

A law that criminalised sexual activity between consenting adolescents in South Africa - even for kissing and cuddling - and required them to be put on a sex offenders register was struck down as unconstitutional after a challenge from the Centre for Child Law.

Kenya: Baby A and the question mark

A question mark on an intersex baby’s medical documents in Kenya nearly condemned a child to a life without medical care, schooling or a passport. Challenging the incorrect document, the child’s mother took the case to the Kenyan High Court.

Senegal: First steps taken to eradicate forced child begging in Quranic schools

A committee of African human rights experts agreed that Senegal must work to stop children in Quranic schools being forced to beg for food and money after two postgraduate students compiled a complaint on behalf of the exploited children.

Europe: Progress on corporal punishment of children after collective complaints

By issuing seven separate collective complaints to the European Committee of Social Rights an organisation seeking a global ban on the corporal punishment of children prompted new legislation and public debate of the issue.

Bulgaria: No more excuses on education for children with disabilities

After discovering that children with mental disabilities were being systematically denied education in Bulgaria, a pair of NGOs submitted a complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR). The organisations alleged that the Bulgarian government was failing to provide education for up to 3,000 children.

United States: Combating climate change with the public trust doctrine

A group of children brought a petition to Washington’s Department of Ecology, asking them to adopt a rule to limit carbon emissions in their state. After being denied and then ignored they appealed against the Department’s rule-making process claiming that, to be effective, it would have to be in line with up-to-date climate science.

Colombia: Free education secured for 12 million children

Part of a law which allowed the Colombian government to charge for primary education was deemed unconstitutional after a pair of Colombian lawyers, collaborating with the law faculty at New York’s Cornell University and a coalition of civil society organisations, brought a direct challenge against its discriminatory provisions.

Bangladesh: Mandatory death penalty declared void after 14-year legal battle

Sentenced to death for a crime allegedly committed when he was just 14, a Bangladeshi boy’s case became the centre of a lengthy legal battle which ultimately led to mandatory executions being declared unconstitutional.

Peru: Abortion guidelines established after 90-year delay

A girl who became pregnant after being raped was denied a legal abortion, despite the danger to her physical and mental health. She was left paralysed after attempting suicide, but thanks to her case, Peru now has a protocol on therapeutic abortion and the UN has recognised the denial of a legal abortion as a form of discrimination against women.

Croatia: Sex-ed stalemate after decades of disagreement

A collective complaint before the European Committee of Social Rights exposed discrimination in the material being taught in Croatian sex education classes but did not manage to cement a better system. Sex education in Croatia remains a divisive issue between religious and secular campaigners and teachers to this day.

Paraguay: State on trial over military’s killing of child soldier

After a child soldier was shot in the back and killed at a military base in Paraguay his parents spent 16 years asking why there was not a timely or effective investigation by the State. After bringing their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights they finally got answers, an apology and changes to the country’s recruitment practices.

Romania: The ‘legal black hole’ for children in institutions

Abandoned by his mother at birth, Valentin Câmpeanu was left to grow up in a Romanian orphanage. As a HIV-positive Roma orphan with severe disabilities, Câmpeanu fell victim to a staggering level of institutional neglect, ultimately resulting in his death. Two NGOs brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights to get accountability for the way he was treated.

Argentina: Juvenile life sentences breached human rights standards

Five Argentinian teenagers were sentenced to life in prison, despite not having attained the age of majority at the time of their crimes. All five suffered grievous ill-treatment and were incarcerated for years before their cases were heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled that life imprisonment should never be imposed on children.

France: Exploitation case sees slavery criminalised at last

Henriette, 15, was brought to France from Togo by one of her father’s acquaintances. She believed she would be given an education, but was instead made to work long hours for no pay, and never went to school. Following a tip-off, police freed Henriette, and she later made an application to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that France failed to prevent and effectively punish the perpetrators for slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour.

Ukraine: State had no right to remove children of blind parents

The parents of the Saviny family, two blind adults raising seven children, argued that Ukrainian authorities were obliged to provide financial support to help them raise their children. In its ruling the European Court of Human Rights once again denied the widespread presumption that people with disabilities are not able to independently raise and educate their children.

Czech Republic: First steps taken on ending anti-Roma discrimination in schools

Roma children in the Czech Republic are often segregated in schools, unfairly labelled as “mentally disabled” and shunted into “special” classes or schools. In 1999, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic became the first case in Czech history to seek an end to this discrimination. In 2007, after a series of rulings and appeals, the European Court of Human Rights called the practice what it is: racial discrimination.

Austria: Quashing discrimination in age of consent laws

An activist lawyer working to advance LGBT rights in Austria brought a series of cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to eliminate discriminatory differences in the age sexual of consent for gay and heterosexual couples. After more than a decade of litigation, the offending article of the Penal Code was repealed, paving the way for further advances for LGBT people’s rights in the country.