“Often, the real help doesn’t come from legal council, contact with a regional NGO or a lawyer. The real help comes from the feeling of being listened to and understood. And not having to worry alone”, so says Anja Finke, who has been a volunteer on the helpline since the start of the year. Born in Wiesbaden, Anja studied law in Geneva and now lives in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, France. We spoke to her about her work, about those looking for help, and the people who provide it.
The Humanium Helpline is a cornerstone of Humanium’s worldwide programme for children’s rights. Violations of children’s rights can be reported in English, French, German and Spanish via a contact form on the website (https://www.humanium.org/en/helpline).
The Helpline assistants, legal experts and law students on placement, answer in writing. They issue advice, exchange contacts and assist those seeking advice for the same goal: Advocacy for children’s right worldwide.
Anja, how exactly do you help those seeking advice on the Helpline?
The Helpline offers free, written legal advice for people from all over the world. We do not provide legal representation or take over any cases. Our task is to present the first step towards a solution. We can exchange contacts from our global network of contacts, for example for regional NGOs or for volunteer advocates in their area. We can also call the appropriate authorities. Often help can be provided by offering a comprehensive perspective on structures and the legal position. With our support, those seeking advice and interested parties are able to advocate for the children themselves.
What sort of questions are you asked, and who asks them?
The questions come from all over the world actually. Sometimes, adults write for children, often they are family members or neighbours Just as often, the children themselves write to us. They are about cases of child abuse, custody disputes or child abduction abroad. Sometimes migrants write. They ask about bringing their family to be with them or citizenship. Last month, someone asked us how they could circumvent forced marriage in Uganda. And another father from Rwanda asked whether his small baby had to go to prison with its mother. Mothers write to us, because their children’s father has disappeared or doesn’t pay maintenance support. We are approached with questions on adoption or some ask what rights their family have regarding an eviction. As you can see – it is really diverse.
Children’s rights violations occur ever less with us in Europe, don’t you think?
One would think that yes, but it isn’t the case. Recently a young girl turned to us because she was a victim of cyber bullying. They filmed her on a chat room and then blackmailed her. We often see that with us here, in Europe. In this case it was in France. She turned to us after a someone on a different telephone helpline made her feel like she was at fault.
This case alone demonstrates our difference in attitude. On the one hand, we can provide concrete help, because we referred her to different centres and places that could provide further assistance. However, what I believe is invaluable is that we listen to people and make them feel understood.
Are people grateful to be taken seriously?
Certainly. That is the case with many of our so called ‘clients’. With our devotion and – for us – every day actions, such as a little research and knowledge, we can help so many people. What can be self-evident for us, for many many people, can be a great obstacle. Be that through lack of money, mobility, internet access, understanding of the law and language barriers or anything else.
Often with only a few minutes research, I can find the right centre that refugees to turn to. Or help school children who want to find out more about children’s rights. That also happens often.
Helping children sounds nice and easy. But the other requests that you have already told me about, sound a lot harder. How do you deal with the emotional effects of the more ‘explosive topics’?
That is a good question. They can really affect you. But I don’t just passively listen, I can actively help. And even with all these topics I have spoken about, that we handle at Humanium, there is even more to do worldwide to ensure children’s rights are respected. Every request is at the same time an incentive to do more.
The hardest part is, even when the legal position is clear, I can still see that the information can’t help the person asking for it, because the route to justice is inadequate in their homeland. I can also help to clarify the legal situation and know almost immediately that it won’t help. That is sad.
However, to not have helped at all is yet to have happened. The least we can do is provide contacts for local NGOs offering safe spaces. For example, for women who were forced into marriages.
For the Helpline, is the most important thing sometimes no simply legal but also pragmatic solutions?
Primarily we want things to be better for these people and children. When this is the case, legal aid is secondary. For example, in cases of custody disputes or abductions, we often refer people to centres skilled in family mediation. Thereby, first of all we attempt to find a good solution.
It seems to me that your role is like a mediator.
We are the first point of contact and signpost to a good solution. We never handle the cases from start to finish. That is not our role. When it gets real, we rely on our partnership with L’AADH. http://aadh.fr/
The “Alliance des Avocates pour les Droits de l’homme” (The Alliance of Lawyers for Human Rights) coordinates neutral, cost free and confidential legal support for Humanium, by working with those asking for help in connection to a violation of children’s rights. L’AADH relies upon a network of more than 26000 volunteer lawyers.
Is it crucial that the help is voluntary?
Yes. This means that legal advice is provided for poor people, who can’t afford a lawyer. That’s why unfortunately the Helpline’s contact list is so extensive. We know that there are many people seeking advice, who are unable to cope and sadly this is a barrier. However, we require information on income or especially on lawyers who are already involved, when we hand the case over to the L’AADH.
Though firstly we try to clear up the case internally. Fortunately, Humanium has very familiar structures, and one founder, Arndt Soret, is both a lawyer and supports the Helpline.
However, as I said earlier, what is often needed is not a lawyer, rather someone who is understanding and ready to listen.
Your role for the Hotline is far from normal. What made you want to support Humanium?
I know what the situation for children’s rights is like and try to see the positives. If I can only help in 50 or even 100 cases, then that is a success. I know that we can only improve the situation for children worldwide with small steps and little drops in the ocean. But to do nothing is no alternative! And, if I can say, I wish that many more people could see that and would donate to Humanium (https://www.humanium.org/en/donate) through a sponsorship (https://www.humanium.org/en/child-sponsorship/) or by offering their voluntary (https://www.humanium.org/en/participate/internships/) support. Thanks a lot!
Written by Andrea Goffart
Translated by Jacob Davies