About the Legal Atlas
As part of our mission to empower street children, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from having the same opportunities in life as other children. Sometimes laws can create barriers, even if they don’t intend to. The Legal Atlas for Street Children helps us to identify where laws and policies can be created or changed to improve street children’s lives.
The Legal Atlas website is informed by the United Nations’ official legal guidance on street children, called the General Comment on Children in Street Situations. This expert guidance explains what countries should do in order to protect the human rights of street children: how they can protect street children from harm, give them opportunities so that they don’t have to rely on the streets to survive, and help them to reach their full potential. Using the United Nations’ guidance, the Legal Atlas can help us to identify where laws and policies can be created or improved. This is the first step towards making real change in the everyday lives of street children.
What does the Legal Atlas focus on?
The Legal Atlas features research on three areas: status offences, police round-ups and legal identity laws. These areas were chosen because street children told us that these topics are especially important to them.
Street children are more likely to be arrested and punished because they spend time on the streets. Activities like begging and loitering in public places are common survival behaviours for street children, but are illegal in a lot of countries. Some offences, like running away from home, are only illegal if you are a child. Because street children are criminalised more than anyone else by these laws, they are known as “status offences”.
The United Nations’ guidance on street children explains that status offences discriminate against street children and can have lifelong consequences. Governments should ensure that they do not have laws which criminalise street children for things that they do to survive.
Police round-ups are when the police arrest or remove a group of people from the street. Police round-ups of street children are conducted on a group basis and not an individual basis. It is discrimination if the police arrests a group of children just because they are spending time on the street. No child should be arrested unless the police have a good reason to believe that the child has done something illegal.
Because street children live, work, play and socialise in public places, it is very important that the police respect their right to access public spaces. The police should not harass street children or remove them from the streets without a lawful, necessary and proportionate justification for doing so.
The United Nations’ guidance on street children advises the police to focus on protecting street children rather than punishing them for being on the streets.
Legal identity documents, such as birth certificates, passports or citizenship cards, are required in many countries for people to gain access to basic services like education, health, justice and welfare. Young people who do not have documentation to prove their age may be treated like adults: they may receive harsher punishments from the justice system, be married below the minimum legal age for marriage or be forced to join the armed forces.
For street children, it can be particularly difficult to obtain legal identity documents. Perhaps they cannot afford to pay the fee to register a birth, they may not understand the procedure for applying, or they may be unable to prove who their parents are.
The United Nations’ guidance on street children says that countries should put in place a free, accessible and quick birth registration system so that all children can be registered at birth. It also says that late registration should be allowed, and that temporary identity documents should be provided for unregistered children so that they can access basic services.
Who created the Legal Atlas?
The Legal Atlas for Street Children is produced by Consortium for Street Children and Baker McKenzie LLP. The legal research featured on the website was carried out by our contributing partners.
Unfortunately, law isn’t usually easy on the eye. However, given that it can significantly impact street children’s day-to-day lives, it is important that it is accessible to everyone. The Legal Atlas brings the law to life in this beautiful, interactive website. A big thank you goes to The Idea Bureau, the creative digital agency that designed and built the Legal Atlas website.