Three girls stand in the concrete yard of the women's prison at Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Behind her stands a concrete wall, topped with barbed wire. Laundry lies on the ground at her feet. Arrests of minors are frequently gang-related, with alleged offences ranging from petty crime to gun possession and assault. Children are often forcibly inducted into gangs, where they face violence from older gang members, rival gangs and the authorities. Many girls have been sexually abused, and some are HIV-positive. Once in prison, they can be held indefinitely without being charged or tried. UNICEF provides sanitation kits and educational and art supplies to this prison.  [#3 IN SEQUENCE OF SEVEN]

In December 2005 in Haiti, children face extreme poverty, violence and chronic insecurity. UNICEF's Child Alert Report on Haiti is the second in a series that documents the effect of crisis situations on children. The report, to be released on 22 March 2006, warns that decades-long political instability and weak institutions have created a climate of lawlessness and social disintegration that have exacerbated conditions of poverty. In addition, Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters has deepened the environmental crisis of deforestation and erosion. The consequences for children are devastating. Each year, 20 per cent of children under five die from preventable illnesses, the highest child mortality rate in the Americas. Just 11 per cent of Haitians have running water in their homes, and 40 per cent have no access to safe water at all. Many thousands of children work as domestic servants or live in slums or on the streets, where they are vulnerable to gang violence, kidnapping and sexual exploitation. Only 54 per cent of children attend primary school, and of these, the majority leave school after just four years in order to work or care for younger siblings. More than 200,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

An open letter to the UN and Member States: financial support is critically needed

“We are writing on behalf of a network of nearly 140 nongovernmental organizations around the world to urge all governments to respond to the recent United Nations funding appeal for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. The UN General Assembly requested that the Secretary-General commission this Study, Professor Manfred Nowak has been appointed as an Independent Expert to lead the effort, but the whole process is now at risk without proper funding.

For this reason, we are urging all UN Member States to provide crucially needed financial support to the Study and wish to stress three main arguments explaining why such support is critical:

1. The Study is a tool to support Member States in meeting their obligations under international law and fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals commit to leaving no one behind. Yet this commitment cannot be met, if children deprived of liberty remain uncounted. We do not know how many children are detained worldwide, and without even this basic information it is impossible to respond to their needs. Children deprived of liberty are more likely to become victims of violence and exploitation and usually do not enjoy their rights to education, health care and access to justice. These children should be considered as among the furthest behind. Fulfilling the ambitious vision set by the SDGs requires that all children, particularly those living outside of their home environment, are counted and their situations addressed.

2. The Study will be a catalyst for change and a milestone in the development of alternatives to detention of children

Like the two previous UN studies on children—the 1996 Study on Children and Armed Conflict led by Graça Machel and the 2006 Study on Violence against Children led by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro— the UN Study on Children Deprived of Liberty has the potential of bringing global attention to critical issues relating the deprivation of children and sparking far-reaching national and global reforms. The Study is a tool that will provide concrete recommendations in law, policy and practice to Member States on all forms of deprivation of liberty. Carrying out this Study does not need a permanent mandate to be established to translate the results into long-lasting impact. Follow-up can be mainstreamed into the existing mandates of UN agencies already working on different aspects and forms of detention of children.

Too many children are unnecessary deprived of their liberty, causing significant harm. This Study will present practical and effective solutions to treat children in a better way.

3. In the long-term, investing in the Study and in alternatives to detention will lead to significant savings and societal benefits

There is a cost for the Study, but this can be offset by enormous social and financial benefits. Studies have shown that reducing the number of children deprived of liberty can result in higher levels of education, better livelihoods, lower crime rates, and healthier communities. Reducing children in detention can also provide substantial financial benefits to States: developing effective non-custodial measures is less costly than investing in detention facilities. Importantly, the Study is not a naming and shaming exercise, nor an end in itself.

Therefore, we call upon your Excellencies to respond to the United Nations funding appeal for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. Individual contributions from States do not need to be large to make the Study possible. Small contributions from many States could make the Study a reality.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, and Alex Kamarotos  Executive Director Defence for Children International

Co-conveners, NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (full list of endorsing groups is available at www.childrendeprivedofliberty.info)”

 

Please find the letter here.

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