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 will shed 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 will map out, through monitoring and evaluation analysis, how existing international laws and standards are being implemented on the ground and assess the concrete possibilities for States to improve their policies and responses. Through the collection of sound evidence and reliable data, the Study will also provide a consolidation of good practices and the formulation of recommendations, to support the work of States, UN agencies and other stakeholders to more effectively implement international standards and ensure that children deprived of liberty actually enjoy their human rights.

The key output of the Study should be an in-depth, comprehensive global report to be presented to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at its 73rd regular session (2018).

To invite the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth global study on children deprived of liberty, funded through voluntary contributions and conducted in close cooperation with relevant United Nations agencies and offices, including but not limited to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, as well as the Interagency Panel on Juvenile Justice, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including Member States, civil society, academia and children, and to include good practices and recommendations for action to effectively realize all relevant rights of the child, including supporting the implementation of the United Nations Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Children in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and invites the Secretary-General to submit the conclusions of the study to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session. (A/RES/69/157, paragraph 52, d)

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

  • Collect qualitative and quantitative data to document the situation of children deprived of liberty, in all its forms;
  • Assess the implementation of applicable international laws and standards, and the effectiveness of existing approaches;
  • Identify alternative approaches to deprivation of liberty;
  • Formulate 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.