There is a great lack of quantitative and qualitative data (particularly disaggregated data), research and verified information on the situation of children deprived of liberty.

Deprivation of liberty has very negative consequences for the child’s harmonious development and is to be a “measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 37.b) in cases of criminal detention, and “unaccompanied or separated children should not, as a general rule, be detained”.

Children deprived of liberty are exposed to increased risks of abuse, violence, acute social discrimination and denial of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; certain disadvantaged groups are more affected than others; and society is affected at large as deprivation of liberty tends to increase social exclusion, recidivism rates, and public expenditure.

The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty sheds light on the scale and conditions of children deprived of liberty, identifying good practices and making recommendations for effective measures to prevent human rights violations against children in detention and reduce the number of children deprived of liberty.

A Ghanaian boy sits in an open center for migrants in Malta. Children with their families, as well as unaccompanied children, are often taken to detention the same day the police apprehend them. Families are typically released more rapidly than unaccompanied migrant children.
© 2012 Alice Farmer/Human Rights Watch

In order to ensure that deprivation of liberty is clearly understood and thus used as a measure of last resort, there is also critical need to improve the clarity around key concepts which are related to children’s rights and deprivation of liberty (such as last resort, shortest possible time, best interests of the child; access to justice; pre-trial detention; diversion; restorative justice; formal and informal justice systems; alternative measures; protective measures; age of criminal responsibility; rehabilitation and reintegration; administration detention; inter alia).

The Study maps out, through monitoring and evaluation analysis, how existing international laws and standards are being implemented on the ground and assesses the concrete possibilities for States to improve their policies and responses. Through the collection of sound evidence and reliable data, the Study provides a consolidation of good practices and the formulation of recommendations, thus supporting the work of States, UN agencies and other stakeholders in effectively implementing international standards and ensuring that children deprived of liberty actually enjoy their human rights.

The key output of the Study was an in-depth, comprehensive global report which was presented to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at its 73rd regular session held in 2018 (A/RES/69/157, paragraph 52, d). Moreover, the Global Study was referenced to during the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council under the HRC resolution on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice, Including Juvenile Justice (A/HRC/43/38). More recently, the UN General Assembly passed a Reoslution on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice (A/C.3/75/L.35/Rev.1), whereby the efforts and relevance of the Global Study were acknowledged, and a call to all relevant parties was made to consider the follow-up to and recommendations of the Global Study.

In line with the UNGA and the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Study accomplished the following:

  • A compilation of qualitative and quantitative data to document the situation of children deprived of liberty, in all its forms;
  • An assessment of the implementation of applicable international laws and standards, and the effectiveness of existing approaches;
  • An identification of alternative approaches to deprivation of liberty;
  • A formulation of recommendations for action at national, regional and international level to meet international obligations, reduce the number of children deprived of liberty, and put in place effective non-custodial measures.