Interdisciplinary Education for Child Law Specialists: The Case for, and a Proposed Model

Paper presented at the 2013 CLEA Conference in Durban

Professor F Noel Zaal
School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Associate Professor Carmel R Matthias
School of Social Work, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Most law degree intakes at universities include students who intend to specialise in cases involving children. This group is a potentially important resource. Children in many countries remain vulnerable to discrimination, illnesses, war, abuse, starvation and other dangers. Greater numbers of lawyers who can serve effectively as expert child advocates are therefore needed to assist in the task of implementing children’s rights. Internationally approved instruments such as the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child are in place. But there is a need for legal experts to drive an intense campaign of implementation of these. Law schools therefore need to give particular attention to the question of how best to train students who wish to specialise in children’s cases.

If law schools are to ensure that aspirant students develop appropriate expertise they must create programs which do more than deliver traditional clinical skills and knowledge of relevant law. They must enable acquisition of appropriate interdisciplinary understanding and expertise. The nature of that expertise and relevant disciplines to be drawn upon will be briefly explored. It will be shown that undergraduate/primary law degrees do not provide an ideal environment for transmission of the interdisciplinary knowledge required. Thereafter, it will be contended that coursework Masters degrees are a solution worth considering because they can provide an appropriate pedagogic context. Particular attention will be paid to two aspects. The first is utilisation of a child-centred focus. The second is interdisciplinary seminars. Experiences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal will be drawn upon for purposes of illustration.

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