39th NGO Panel statement

SEPTEMBER 2019: Deprivation of Liberty at the UN Human Rights Council 42nd session

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 42nd session took place from 9th to 27th September, 2019 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

Interactive dialogue with the Working Group on arbitrary detention

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention highlighted a series of recommendations with regard to the detention of children in the administration of justice such as always separating children from adults and putting into place child friendly justice systems.              

During this dialogue, a statement was delivered on behalf of the NGO Panel on Children Deprived of Liberty by Defence for Children International (DCI) calling on States to support the Global Study and its recommendations, including specific mechanisms to continue data collection and to implement good practices on alternatives to detention.     


The Administration of Justice including Juvenile Justice

During the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council the question of the Administration of justice including juvenile justice was dealt with in the High Commissioner’s report on the subject as well as with the biennial resolution. The report demonstrates how overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities leads to violence, death and serious injury. This biennial resolution led by Austria was adopted by consensus. It was an important opportunity for child rights NGOs to advocate towards the better protection of children’s rights in the child justice system. The resolution calls on States to keep the different categories of prisoners separated, taking account of their sex, age, criminal records, the legal reason for their detention and the necessities of their treatment. Furthermore, the minimum age of criminal responsibility was increased to 14 years of age from 12 years of age in line with the General Comment 24.

It was highlighted during a side event on this issue that the topic of children of prisoners is difficult approach due to the lack of information, what is certain is that loss of contact is very common in families where a member is serving a life sentence.


Country specific situations

Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Report on Yemen

The Chairperson of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts, Mr Kemal Jendoubi highlighted that children are particularly hit by the conflict with high rates of recruitment of child soldiers who are under the age of 15 and generally it was highlighted that a lot of civilians casualties are children due to restrictions of humanitarian aid, and the military use of hospitals. Four children were killed in the airstrike of the detention centre just days before the HRC.

Furthermore, during a side event on the situation in Yemen, Yemeni activists discussed the role of Yemeni woman in the fight against arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance of woman through facts, experiences and local initiatives carried out on the field. Panellists provided the audience with a profile of the woman in detention and post-arrest, identifying the socio-psychological impact on woman and their families.


General Debate on Item 7 Palestine

A multitude of issues were raised during Item 7 such as the use of collective punishment, and arbitrary detention, including for children which was condemned by the delegations that took the floor.


Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine                                                                                        

UNICEF highlighted that a high number of children are living in residential care with limited efforts to prevent family separation and the placement of children in closed institutions and is particularly concerned about the high number of children with disabilities in such institutions.


Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Libya

Of particular concern is the conditions of detention in Libya without appropriate healthcare, indefinite arbitrary detention, torture, ill treatment, SEA, as well as trafficking and smuggling, migrants today are exposed further to the impacts of the conflicts. It is estimated that 3500 are help in centres in conflict zones. 1 in 5 are children.

Global Efforts Needed to Free Detained Children

UN Study Finds at Least 1.5 Million Locked Up Each Year

New York
October 7, 2019

A new global study on children deprived of their liberty should prompt United Nations member countries to take steps to dramatically decrease the number of children detained and confined a group of 170 non-governmental organizations said today.

Manfred Nowak, a UN independent expert, will present the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty to the UN General Assembly in New York on October 8, 2019. He found that approximately 1.5 million children are deprived of their liberty each year.

Children are often detained illegally, unnecessarily, and at great cost to their health and future,” said Alex Kamarotos, director of Defence for Children International and co-chair of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. “The Global Study should  prompt every country to adopt new policies and practices to dramatically decrease the number of children who are locked up.”

The study examined the situation of children – anyone under age 18 – detained in the administration of justice, in immigration detention, in orphanages and other institutions, living in prison with their caregivers, and detained in the context of armed conflict and national security. The Global Study’s estimate of at least 1.5 million children deprived of liberty is most likely a substantial undercount, due to uneven data collection and reporting.

Some of the Study’s key findings:

• At least 410,000 children are held every year in jails and prisons, where violence is “endemic.” Many are charged with “status offenses” that are not criminal offenses for adults, including truancy, disobedience, and underage drinking;
• Although UN experts have concluded that detention of children for migration-related reasons can never be in the best interests of a child, at least 330,000 children in 77 countries are held in immigration detention each year;
• While between 430,000 and 680,000 children have been placed by judicial authorities in institutions that meet the legal definition of deprivation of liberty, the total number of children in institutions is estimated at 3.5 to 5.5 million.
• Children with disabilities are significantly overrepresented in detention in the context of administration of justice and institutions.
• The number of children detained in the context of armed conflict and national security has increased sharply, driven by aggressive counter-terrorism measures that can include detention and prosecution of children for online activity, including posts to Facebook and Twitter.

The Study found that deprivation of liberty aggravates existing health conditions in children and can cause new ones to emerge, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and post traumatic stress. Psychiatric disorders for children in detention can increase tenfold during detention, and detention is correlated with early death among children once released.

“Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countries use it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than the last,” said Jo Becker, child rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the NGO Panel. “Governments should invest in alternatives that not only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes for children, families, and society overall.”

Nowak found some areas of progress, including a reduction in some countries in the number of children in institutional care or detained in the criminal justice system. At least 21
governments said that they do not detain children for migration-related purposes. Some countries have adopted formal protocols to avoid detaining children in the context of armed
conflict. The nongovernmental groups urged all countries to examine and adapt the good practices documented in the study.

Nowak recommended that states “most rigorously” apply the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that deprivation of liberty shall be applied only as a measure of last resort in exceptional cases. He urged countries to “make all efforts to significantly reduce the number of children held in places of detention and prevent deprivation of liberty before it occurs, including addressing the root causes and pathways leading to deprivation of liberty in a systemic and holistic manner.”



The study was initiated by a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2014. Its findings are based on 12 regional and thematic consultations, questionnaires requesting data from every UN member state, comprehensive reviews of literature on the subject, and additional research by expert groups. In addition, the Study consulted 274 children and young adults – 204 male and 70 female – between the ages of 10 to 24, and their views and perspectives inform the findings.

The NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was established in 2013 and includes 170 local, national, and international non-governmental organizations worldwide. The Panel participated in the study and coordinates efforts by nongovernmental groups to carry through on its findings.

The members of the NGO Panel urged governments to carry out the Global Study’s recommendations. These include collecting reliable and systematic data on children deprived of liberty, and creating national action plans aimed at an overall reduction in the number of children in detention and/or the elimination of detention for children. The NGO Panel members also urged the General Assembly to formally designate a UN entity to lead follow-up efforts.

The full study can be found online here: https://undocs.org/en/A/74/136

The independent expert’s presentation of the study to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on October 8 will be livestreamed here: http://webtv.un.org/

A panel discussion including the UN independent expert and other experts will take place at 6.15 PM (EDT) on October 8 at the UNICEF House in New York.

For more information:

Alex Kamarotos
Defence for Children International (English, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek)
+33607028641 (mobile or whatsapp)
Twitter: @DCIdirector

Jo Becker
Human Rights Watch (English)
+1 914 263 9643 (mobile) or + 1 212 216 1236
Twitter: @jobeckerhrw

Benoit Van Keirsbilck
Defence for Children International (English, French, Dutch/Flemish)
+32497420777 (mobile or whatsapp)
Twitter: @BVanKeirsbilck

Find here the Press Release