Help 250 children in prison in Burundi + Cambodia

by International Bridges to Justice
Help 250 children in prison in Burundi + Cambodia

With Defender Resource Centers around the globe and a presence on each continent, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) is able to help people in need of legal representation globally. Analyzing judicial systems in different regions of the world, we see that in many places access to justice is still a privilege and not a right. In fact, the vast majority of detainees we encounter during the course of our work are not even aware of the legal rights available to them.  Because of this, they consistently fall victim to ineffective and corrupt judicial systems.

Two of IBJ’s country offices, Burundi Bridges to Justice and Cambodia Bridges to Justice, seek out detainees in local prisons and police stations where a distressing number of inmates are children who have spent weeks, months, and even years in detention without knowing why they are being detained or if they will ever be released. In many cases, they are held with the adult prison population, exposing them to further abuse. This unnecessary injustice is preventable with simple interventions made at the right moment by an IBJ lawyer.


Over the last four months, Burundi Bridges to Justice (BBJ) lawyers were able to provide legal assistance to 21 more children.

Success Story – Less than 24 hours in police custody

Two 16-year-old girls were accused of stealing a cellphone and arrested for robbery. The night before, they had been at a sleepover in the house where the cellphone was taken. The next morning, one of the residents of the house lost his phone and so accused the girls of stealing it.  The girls were brought to the nearest police station, placed in custody, and investigated for theft. Thanks to an existing agreement between BBJ and the police, our lawyers were quickly notified of the girls’ arrest because they did not have legal representation. BBJ immediately went to the police station and advocated for their release based on the absence of evidence against them.  Thanks to our swift intervention through our early access to justice program, the girls spent less than 24 hours in police custody and were not tortured or beaten in interrogation. Based on our experience, without representation, they would still be imprisoned to this day.

Success Story – Too young to be criminally charged

BBJ lawyers defended three boys, aged 12, 14, and 16 years old, who were accused of theft by their former boss. They had been taken from their schools and brought to Bujumbura by “Madame BM” who employs children as cheap labor, even though only the 16-year-old was legally permitted to work. When they finally decided to quit, Madame BM filed a complaint against them for stealing a cellphone and a SIM card, and all three were arrested by the police. Despite the fact that the two youngest boys cannot be criminally charged due to their age, the prosecutor pursued them regardless. Our lawyer reminded the prosecutor that no child under the age of 15 can be criminally prosecuted in Burundi. She also argued that there was no evidence that the boys had committed the theft, and so they were declared innocent and released.


Over the last four months, Cambodia Bridges to Justice lawyers were able to provide legal assistance to five children between the ages of 16 and 17.

With your help and the assistance of GlobalGiving, our frontline legal defenders have been able to take on more cases of detained children and we can provide continuing support to the projects of our Youth Justice Champions.   

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May 12, 2021

Thanks to the continuing generous contributions that our project has received through GlobalGiving, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) has been able to increase efforts and intensify focus on children in detention by assisting them with early legal assistance and by training lawyers on children’s rights and best practices for defense strategies. In light of the broad international network of donors we are now able to access thanks to GlobalGiving, we have received $13,386 since October 2020 in furtherance of our $25,000 goal. Because of this support, our legal defenders continue to chip away at the estimated 1 million children in detention around the world for petty offenses or crimes they did not commit (UNICEF).

Since 2000, IBJ has worked ceaselessly to ensure that every accused person is provided early access to a skilled lawyer to prevent torture and ensure the right to a fair trial. Nonetheless, COVID-19 disruptions continue to have a profound impact on our work. Faced with shuttered courtrooms, locked-down prisons, and mass arrests of curfew violators, IBJ’s global team of justice first responders have leaned into an “adapt and act” strategy, armed with financial support, digital COVID-19 legal resources, and tailored training to safeguard the rights of everyday people in conflict with the law. The brave and effective work of IBJ’s legal defenders is illustrated in the success stories below. Since January 2021, our team in the DRC provided legal assistance to 41 children in conflict with the law in 3 detention centers (Bukavu, Kabare, and Walungu) in South Kivu province.

Of these 41 children, we were able to obtain the immediate release of 13, 9 children were acquitted, and 8 were placed in the juvenile detention center attached to the Central Prison. We will continue to closely monitor the remaining 11 cases, in addition to the 14 cases that remain pending since last year. In March, our lawyers in DRC assisted a group of 5 street children who were accused of assaulting a police officer, which they denied. The children testified that some patrolling police officers tried to sexually assault a girl, also living on the street and they defended her.

Our lawyers pleaded not guilty on behalf of these children and the court found them innocent of all charges and released them the very same day. In 2021, our team of lawyers in Burundi, who we personally trained and mentored, provided 6 children in police custody with free legal assistance at the earliest stage of their criminal proceedings. Thankfully, they were able to secure the release of all 6 children. One of these children is “Anthon”, a 16-year-old from Buyenzi (a Bujumbura suburb) who was accused of raping another boy, which he denied. Two days after his arrest, Mr. Ferdinand, one of our lawyers, met with Anthon and began defending him the very same day. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure Anthon’s release from the Judicial Police who insisted that the case be handled by the Prosecutor’s office maintaining that homosexuality is a serious offense punishable under Burundi’s criminal code. Nonetheless, when Anthon’s case was transferred to the Prosecutor’s office the next day, Mr. Ferdinand was able to convince the Prosecutor to dismiss the case for lack of evidence and release Anthon.

This case highlights not only the need for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Burundi but also for the legal assistance and protection of people, particularly children, who are victimized due to prejudices that persist in the criminal justice system. Mr. Ferdinand also defended three children accused of robbery, ages 16 to 17. Unable to find jobs, the boys sold peanuts and eggs on the side of the road until their merchandise was seized by police because they lacked a permit to sell. They were reduced to stealing a bucket and a bag of rice from a local shop, and theft was caught on camera. When the shopkeeper confronted them with the videotape, they returned the stolen goods but were nonetheless arrested by the police, who severely beat them in detention. Mr. Ferdinand found them a week after their arrest, and he argued for their release given that they had voluntarily returned the stolen goods. They were all released the same day.

In Cambodia, since October of 2020, our team of defenders has provided free legal assistance to 28 children who were accused of a wide variety of offenses including theft and destruction of property. In Syria, our lawyers took on the cases of 18 children who could not afford a lawyer. Due to this legal assistance, all 18 were exonerated or had their sentences commuted. One of the children was a 14-year-old boy accused of theft. The boy had stolen a small amount of cash from a parked car and had used it to buy food for his starving siblings. When Ms. Ilham, one of our defenders, questioned the boy, he burst into tears and explained that his father had been killed when warplanes bombed his family home in Aleppo, and that he, his mother, and his siblings had been displaced. Ms. Ilham pleaded not guilty on the boy’s behalf and the court released him back to his family.


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Volunteer lawyer interviews detained child
Volunteer lawyer interviews detained child

Since October 2020, thanks to the generous donations provided through GlobalGiving, International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) has been able to increase its efforts and focus on children in prison.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – 

Our team in the DRC was able to provide protection to children through dedicated legal representation in detention in 4 detention centers (prisons and jails) in South Kivu province. In total, 

54 children received free legal aid, 7 of which were acquitted, 30 were released, and 2 received a sentence reduction. The cases of the remaining 14 children continue to be closely monitored.

Our team also conducted a public Rights Awareness Campaign on the Rights of the Detained Child in December by posting extracts the 2009 Child Protection Act in government offices and distributing flyers with the same information to the public through police stations. Two main objectives of this campaign were to promote awareness of the rights of detained children and prevent police abuse.

That same month, in cooperation with the prosecutor’s office, we visited remote detention centers in the region during which we found two minors (aged 13 and 15) in police custody for the alleged (or accused of) theft of a neighbor’s hen. Given their age and the nature of their crime, our lawyers were able to convince the judge to have them released to their parents.

Another success story involved a 15-year-old boy who informed our lawyers that he had just been told that his father was dead when the police appeared, arrested him and took him to the station. Once there, he saw that his older brothers had also been arrested for murder of their father. He maintained his innocence throughout his trial and the judge released him due to a lack of evidence, 7 months after his arrest. 

In Burundi - 

In December, our team in Burundi was been able to provide protection to children through free legal representation in the earliest stages of criminal proceedings, especially right after arrest and detention at police stations. IBJ Burundi Team also trained and mentored more defence lawyers for this very purpose. Our lawyers were able to provide legal representation to 5 children in police custody. Four of these children were released while still in police custody, the fifth case remains pending and is being closely followed. 

One of the 4 children released was “Malick”, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Bujumbura who was accused of robbery. He had assisted an adult in stealing 10 goats. He was remorseful and so had pleaded guilty and was cooperating with the police, helping them find 5 of the stolen goats, as well as the adult conspirator. “Malick” had been in police detention almost 2 weeks when Ms. Nibasumba, one of our lawyers, found him. She was able to successfully defend him and secure his release by arguing the importance of him continuing his studies, reminding the court of his truthfulness and cooperation with the police, and obtaining the assistance of his parents to pay restitution for the remaining goats. “Malick” was released in time to sit for his school exams. 

On December 10th, in celebration of International Human Rights Day, our staff conducted a training and mentoring session for defence lawyers from the Burundi Bar Association on the topic of: Defence strategies for children detainedduring the COVID-19 pandemic. The main presenter and mentor, Ms. Aline Nijimbere, is a lawyer with over 20 years of experience defending children accused of crimes before the police, the prosecutor’s office and the courts. Ms. Nijimbere discussed specific legal arguments pertaining to children as well as the problems presented poverty and by children being detained in remote areas. The 15 participants discussed improving communication and collaboration with justice system officials, increasing lawyers’ presence in the more remote provinces, increasing the legal capacities of defence lawyers specifically regarding the laws governing the detention and prosecution of children.

In Syria – 

Finally, our Syrian lawyers were able to take on the cases of 18 children who otherwise would not have been able to afford access to a lawyer. Of these 18 children, 15 were internally displaced persons given that they had been forced to flee their homes inside Syria. As a result of our legal interventions, all 18 cases received a positive outcome: 2 children were found innocent and the rest had their sentences reduced. They all expressed their intense satisfaction with the assistance of our lawyers. Fortunately, none of them were subjected to physical or psychological torture.

DRCBJ legal rights awareness campaign
DRCBJ legal rights awareness campaign
DRC lawyer assist two detained boys
DRC lawyer assist two detained boys
DRC lawyer obtains release of boy from detention
DRC lawyer obtains release of boy from detention
Burundi defenders' training on rights of child
Burundi defenders' training on rights of child
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Organization Information

International Bridges to Justice

Location: Geneva - Switzerland
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IBJGeneva
Project Leader:
Sanjeewa Liyanage
International Program Director
Geneva, Switzerland
$18,604 raised of $25,000 goal
86 donations
$6,396 to go
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