In many countries in the Middle East and in North Africa, official justice systems are also ruled by religious values and norms. Terre des hommes works with personal status courts from different legal systems to guarantee children’s rights.
children involved in family law proceedings received support
family judges were trained on child friendly and gender-responsive justice
policy documents were published focused on improving the judicial treatment of children
Legal pluralism is the coexistence of religious legal systems with secular and customary legal systems. In the Middle East and North Africa, Terre des hommes (Tdh) works for guaranteeing children’s rights and their access to justice mainly in civil law proceedings such as family matters.
Children are concerned by family law proceedings, especially as they relate to family separation and its effects such as divorce, custody, visitation or alimony. Judicial decisions highly impact children’s lives, as they may entail a change of home and school or a separation from friends and family members.
Making sure children are heard in family law proceedings
All justice systems encounter gaps when aiming at providing comprehensive child-friendly responses in family law proceedings. In general, family law courts and proceedings are still largely adult-oriented and insufficiently equipped to protect children from violence and negative consequences of decisions. Children’s rights are still not guaranteed, specifically the right to be heard and to effectively and safely participate in the proceedings.
Tdh wants to change that by working together with religious courts to highlight the particularly vulnerable position of children involved in parental disputes and the low consideration and protection given to their rights in family litigation processes. We also provide training for judges to help make sure the best interest of the child is taken into account.
Applying justice for and with children in religious justice systems
Tdh has been engaging with community faith-based actors since 2011. The thematic of religious justice, specifically formal justice systems applying traditional-based and religious precepts for personal status matters, started to be explored in 2017 through an action-oriented research conducted in Lebanon. For this, seven of the most representative religious communities in the country participated and 76 children involved in family matter justice proceedings were consulted. Findings relate to the obstacles and opportunities for religious courts to comply and adopt the standards of a child-friendly justice for children.
Parallel pilot interventions have been launched in Palestine, where Tdh has developed a partnership with Sharia courts to implement gender-responsive interventions to reduce violence against girls and women, including capacity building initiatives for judicial personnel and an evidence-based research on the administration of gender-based violence cases. A strategic partnership established with the Afghan Women’s Judges Association has been a solid step forward for Tdh to launch the thematic in Afghanistan.
Exchanging of good practices protecting children’s rights
Tdh organises national and regional workshops that enable civil and religious judges, international family law judges and child justice experts to share best practices for protecting children's rights during these processes.
In 2018, a national workshop reuniting Lebanese civil and religious judges, European family law magistrates and justice for children specialists was organised to promote a child-friendly approach to justice in Lebanese personal status courts. As a result of the agreements and recommendations gathered there, in 2019, Tdh created the first Child-friendly Court Guidelines for Personal Status Courts in Lebanon.
Additionally, a regional country assessment including Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon has been developed by Tdh.