By Mithea Murugesu
As my placement at Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) draws to an end, it feels like an opportune time to reflect on my experiences. I was initially drawn to JFCY because I wanted to further explore my interest in children’s rights. Prior to this placement, I knew very little about what I considered to be a niche area of law. In law school, students rarely hear about the rights of a child. I, myself, was only exposed to it through courses such as family law and child protection law. However, in these contexts, the child is viewed as a victim and in need of protection. The adults make decisions for children under the best interests of the child principle. I left these classes wondering where the child’s voice was in all of this.
In light of my previous experiences, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the child’s voice is front and centre at JFCY. You will notice this too when you give the clinic a call. If it is regarding a legal issue, the staff will request to speak to the child or youth directly.
Alongside the focus on the voice of the child, the clinic frames its advocacy around a rights based approach. I appreciate this perspective because it acknowledges that individuals have rights and autonomy. It allows for service providers to be held accountable in ensuring those rights are met. This is an empowering position which encourages children and youth to have a greater say in what goes on in their lives.
It is fitting that my first task at JFCY involved children’s special education rights during COVID-19. Prior to this work and the two day self-administered crash course on special education rights, I had no knowledge of this type of law. In reading up on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the case law on special education (see Moore v. British Columbia (Education)), I learned that children are entitled to an education and that special education is not a dispensable luxury. COVID-19 does not eliminate these rights and school boards are required to ensure that measures, such as virtual learning, address the needs of children with learning disabilities. As a result of this learning opportunity, I am curious to see how school boards across the country navigate back to school in the fall.
Through my summer work experience at JFCY, I have gained a greater understanding of children’s rights. Conducting client intakes over the phone has allowed me to hear a variety of unique cases from leaving home to having the right to access legal services. Many of these cases involve complex legal issues and it makes me question the systems in place that are preventing children and youth from seeking justice. My experience at JFCY has inspired me to empathize with the young person and to see the world from their perspective. I hope to carry this knowledge forward in my practice as I advocate for my client while also ensuring their voice is heard.
Mithea Murugesu is an incoming 3L at the University of Windsor. She is a passionate advocate for social justice interested in applying her law degree towards human rights work