As part of Baker McKenzie's ongoing efforts to give a voice to street children around the world, the Firm partnered with the American Bar Association to host the International Summit on the Legal Rights of Street-Connected Children and Youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 28-29.
The Summit was held at the offices of Trench, Rossi e Watanabe Advogados, a Brazilian law firm with a cooperation agreement with Baker McKenzie, bringing together more than 100 international academics, advocates, lawyers and government officials.
The gathering focused on developing strategies to implement the UN's General Comment on Children in Street Situations. The General Comment provides legal advice to governments around the world on how to ensure that street connected children have access to the same rights as all children. The ABA Summit will build on legislative advocacy efforts begun at the first International Summit on the Legal Needs of Street Youth convened by the ABA in June 2015 in London.
"Our Firm has a sustained commitment to supporting the legal rights of children who live, work and depend on the street to survive, and so we were very proud to be involved in this significant global gathering," said Angela Vigil, the Firm's Pro Bono Partner who serves as Chair of the ABA's Advisory Council on Homeless and Street Children. "This Summit helped us move from paper to practice — identifying concrete steps that countries can take to implement the UN's General Comment."
Baker McKenzie's involvement with the ABA Summit is a continuation of the Firm's extensive pro bono work realizing the rights of street children around the world. For example, last year Baker McKenzie partnered with the Consortium for Street Children (CSC), a global network that promotes the rights of street children, to arrange a series of consultations that reached approximately 1,000 children around the world. These consultation events provided a unique opportunity for children who depend on the streets to be at the center of developing the UN General Comment.
In addition, the Firm recently partnered again with the CSC, as well as in-house legal teams from eight multi-national corporations, to develop an online "Legal Atlas for Street Children" tracking tool. This has involved “mapping” the existence of laws, policies and procedures in each country to help them to learn from each other, measure their own efforts and better devise ways to meet the expectations of the UN's General Comment.
"Street children are often perceived as a hard-to-reach group and are frequently made invisible in policy agendas," said Michael Wagner, Chair of Baker McKenzie's Global Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and North America Chair of the Firm's Global Executive Committee. "Giving a voice to this vulnerable population is an integral part of our pro bono strategy, and the ABA Summit made meaningful progress in developing concrete strategies countries can use to protect the rights of these children."
There are at least 100 million street-connected children in the world according to UNICEF, and increasingly younger children are affected. They experience violence, stigma and discrimination, and are often unable to access food, clean water, shelter, healthcare and basic services. They have no influential lobby groups, spokespeople or media profile.