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Getting It Right With Our Rights

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The process of arrest, trial and sentencing can be an extremely frightening experience for a child and if not handled with care and sensitivity can be seriously damaging.  At present, violations of children’s rights occur in the following instances: not informing a child the grounds of arrest and his right to remain silent, not informing parents/guardian and the probation officer upon arrest, hand-cuffing of children, keeping them in remand for long periods and often with adults, using interrogation techniques that are not child friendly, and other types of physical and psychological mistreatment. As part of our efforts to create a more child-centered juvenile justice system, Voice of the Children has developed a programme that focuses on education children about their rights in the context of the juvenile justice system.

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This programme aims to build the capacity and consciousness on children’s rights by empowering children to know and advocate for their rights in general, and legal rights in particular when they come in conflict or contact with the law.  The programme consists of 2 booklets for children between the age of 12 to 14 years old and 15 to 18 years old.

Image Credit: Anusha Marie Charles

The two children’s booklets are also supported by a Facilitator’s Manual which is very user friendly and each session comes with background reading, relevant laws and statutes, activities, hand-outs and glossary. Both booklets are in the form of a narrative, where the characters that are children enter the process of discovering their rights through the problems that their friends experience. The narratives walk children through their rights in general and their legal rights if they face arrest, in the police station, in the court and facing a sentence.  There is also a section/chapter specifically addressing the rights of refugee, undocumented and stateless children.

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Voice of the Children piloted this programme earlier this year. Some of our key learning includes:

  • The use of a narrative provided a space for the teens to speak about and look at children in conflict with the law from a safe distance. It made it easier for them to share their thoughts and experiences with the law as some of the characters resonated with them.
  • The interactive nature of the programme enabled them to discuss, think and reach their own conclusions and reasoning about their rights and responsibility vis-à-vis the law.
  • Many of them have already had interaction with the police and other law enforcement agencies, with most of the interactions being unpleasant.
  • They spoke about the discrimination and bullying that they faced in society in general as well as in the hands of law enforcement officers.
  • The teens were excited to learn that even when stopped by the police, they had certain rights that served to protect them and were eager to share this information with their other friends.
  • As the training progressed, they shared a lot of stories about the discriminatory experiences and challenges that they faced as teens from marginalized communities, refugee communities as well as undocumented communities.
  • A common story was about how law enforcement officers often demanded for money for them to be let off, even if they had not committed any offence. It appears that children who were undocumented were especially vulnerable as they law doesn’t really protect them.

The children found that the subject addressed by this project was very relevant to their lives. Providing children with knowledge and information about their legal rights is an important step towards ensuring their safety. Using a combination of a narrative along with activities to facilitate their learning has been useful as some of the situations and characters resonate with the different children and helps create a space for them to talk about the issues that they face in a comfortable environment. The information learnt from the children via this process really points towards the need for stronger check and balances in the enforcement system to ensure the safety of all children.

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If you’d like to learn more about this programme or how we could bring this programme to more children, please email Sumithra at sumithra@voc.org.my

 

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