Impact of CLPC
The main objective of undertaking various interventions on child right issues is to facilitate changes in institutional, legal and social rules, procedures and behaviour. It is believed that all activities carried out by CLPC under the four programmes since 2005 have contributed to the overall improvement in accessing justice to children. Though it might be difficult to attribute and articulate all positive changes on children in Ethiopia to CLPC’s works, the following concrete changes that would have a long term impact on the lives of children, however, could be observed as a result of interventions carried out by CLPC in the past five years.
Improving access to legal and psychosocial services
The CLPC has played significant role in improving access to quality legal and psychosocial services in Addis Ababa and regions. These services have brought positive changes in the lives of many children. Apart from the services directly provided, CLPC has also sensitized as well as initiated other actors for the establishment of formal networks among legal aid and psychosocial service providers to improve children’s access to relevant legal and psychosocial services.
Contributing to law reform
The domestic laws and policies of Ethiopia that are relevant to child victims and children in conflict with the law are not entirely harmonised with international child rights standards. There are still some areas that are unfriendly to these particular groups of children. The CLPC has, therefore, tried to use the opportunity of the process of the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code by the Ministry of Justice. Indeed, the studies conducted by CLPC have provided evidence regarding the gaps in the law and practice. The National Policy Conference provided the basis for subsequent forums which ultimately produced a comprehensive document that was formally submitted to the Ethiopian Legal Research Institute to be considered in the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code
Strengthening structures and improving practices
The CLPC has initiated and strengthened existing child friendly structures that would have a long term impact towards facilitating access to justice. Accordingly, the CLPC, in consultation with the Federal First Instance Court designed pro-child custody assessment procedures. This document is currently in use at the Federal First Instance Court, Lideta Bench and has contributed to the improvement of the Court’s decision making process as judgments are based on the best interest of children. Similarly, the CLPC has lobbied for the introduction of a uniform maintenance guideline that suits the best interest of the child seeking support from persons who are responsible to provide maintenance. Most court files clearly show that decisions on child maintenance are decided arbitrarily without considering the best interest of the children. Currently, the draft Guideline is being used by judges for rulings on child maintenance cases in uniform manner and ensuring the best interest of the child.
Litigation as a long-term change
The CLPC also used the legal service programme not only to benefit individuals but also to instigate judicial activism having a far reaching effect. Hence as a result of conscious effort from CLPC, some of the court litigations handled by the Centre convinced the judiciary to interpret relevant legal provisions in light of child rights standards and principles recognised under the CRC and ACRWC. In this regard, the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court passed a landmark decision by invoking the principle of the best interest of the child, recognised under Article 3 of the CRC, when reversing the decision passed by lower courts on a child custody case despite the fact that the relevant family law provision provides otherwise. The Cassation Bench set precedence by recognising the principle of ‘the best interest of the child’ as the main standard to be considered when deciding the issue of child custody and other concerns affecting children. The CLPC has also won similar court decisions in relation to paternity cases. Apparently, the Revised Family Law has stipulated limited grounds for ascertaining paternity and the practice of courts has never been in favour of DNA test. As a result, many children are affected as they are not able to obtain the necessary support from their fathers who have abandoned and/or neglected them. Following a series of dialogue with judges from the Federal High Court and Federal First Instance Court to use DNA test as one mechanism of ascertaining paternity, courts have since been ordering DNA test for about 42 cases handled by CLPC based on the principle of the best interest of the child.