Legal case studies
The stories behind children’s rights cases
Strategic litigation is an effective yet sometimes daunting way to challenge children’s rights violations. Non-lawyers may think of it as a complex and lengthy process completely foreign to their usual toolbox. Even for lawyers, taking on a “strategic” case that can potentially affect many children (and society as a whole) can be quite intimidating. For these understandable reasons, strategic litigation is sometimes overlooked as a legal advocacy tool.
CRIN is developing a series of case studies, with the aim of encouraging children's advocates around the world to use strategic litigation when appropriate. Although legal summaries of strategic litigation cases are often available - including in CRIN's legal database - the stories behind them are rarely reported in detail.
CRIN's case studies illustrate how strategic litigation works in practice by asking the people involved about their experience. Through this collection of stories, we hope to depict the human side of strategic litigation by revealing how, why and by whom violations were taken to court. 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. Case studies will be uploaded here as they are completed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.