Children in institutions
What is the issue?
The systemic abuse and neglect of children in care institutions is well established, yet the violence continues and few survivors ever secure redress. Children in residential and community care may endure sexual abuse, or be subjected to physical and emotional violence. The harm inflicted on them can last a lifetime and the people responsible for protecting them often hide the abuse. Children who have lived in institutions are also more likely to be drawn into the criminal justice system, perpetuating the cycle of violence and detention.
Access to justice for children in institutions
The occurrence of abuse and neglect of children in care institutions has been known to governments for decades, yet few survivors ever secure redress. The institutional abuse of children takes many forms, including sexual abuse of children in residential care and community-based settings, physical or emotional abuse, and harms suffered from living in the ‘dehumanising institutional environment’ of residential care.
The right to access justice for children in care institutions has long been neglected and ignored, with it being far more challenging for children to access justice when their rights are violated as a result of their placement in an institution, when their guardian — the State — is the perpetrator of the crime. Children’s voices often remain unheard, they do not know who to trust, have no means of accessing help from the outside world and many have disabilities, making communication even more challenging.
CRIN has produced this guide, "When the State doesn’t care", to enable advocates to access the legal and practical tools needed to end violations suffered while in institutional care and to provide survivors with information on avenues of redress. The report provides a global overview of potential methods of redress for violations of children's rights in care institutions, examines how a child, or those acting on behalf of a child, can bring a case domestically, and examines how to get justice at the regional and international level.
While this guide should be used in a practical way, it should not be construed as a source of legal advice, and we encourage cooperation between lawyers, NGOs and activists with complementary expertise wherever possible. The guide should be used alongside other CRIN resources, including country-specific access to justice reports, our guide to strategic litigation and legal assistance toolkit.
Summaries of decisions by regional complaints mechanisms
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee v. Bulgaria  European Court of Human Rights, Applications Nos. 35653/12 and 66172/12.
Mental Disability and Advocacy Centre (MDAC) v. Bulgaria, European Committee of Social Rights, Complaint No. 41/2007.
Guides and toolkits
Mental Disability Advocacy Centre, Litigating the right to community living for people with mental disabilities. A handbook for lawyers, 2014.
Mental Disability Advocacy Centre, Access to Justice for Children with Mental Disabilities: Standards and Findings, 2015.