Mobile legal clinic for children in South Africa

Helping children on the move be better protected from exploitation and abuse.

The challenges

Most migrant children in South Africa come from neighbouring countries Lesotho, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Some have come with their parents or other family members. Others have come alone or have been separated from their companions. They are often at risk of abuse, exploitation and violence. Many civil society organisations in South Africa support migrant children by raising awareness about their rights as children first and foremost and by working with national authorities to ensure these rights are fulfilled in practice.

The right to access justice is critical, not only as a right in itself, but also as a step to accessing other rights. Yet, migrant children often struggle to access this right. The justice system is not always child-friendly which is a challenge for all children. Migrant children face additional barriers because they are often on the move within South Africa; hesitant to access justice because of their irregular residence status; unaware of their rights and how the system works in South Africa or held back because of language barriers or financial costs.

The response

Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, working with CORMSA, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Johannesburg Child Welfare among others with support from Terre des Hommes (Germany), provides a mobile legal clinic for children on the move. Lawyers for Human Rights’ legal advisors reach out to children and their communities, discuss migrant children’s situations with them, provide information about their rights and entitlements and explain the steps they need to take to claim such rights. When a child and his or her family agrees, the mobile clinic team assists families in claiming these rights through the justice system.

The cases brought to the mobile legal clinic have been documented and together provide an important picture of the various challenges faced by migrant children in accessing justice in South Africa. In partnership with other civil society organisations, Lawyers for Human Rights is using this evidence to advocate for changes in laws, policies and practices.

The impact

Through this mobile clinic, children on the move are better protected against exploitation and abuse, while the perpetrators face justice. The mobile character of the practice has proven crucial in reaching children and in establishing trust with them and their families.

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