The calls to stop depriving children of their liberty have come during the launch of the full UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty in Geneva on 19 November from the UN Independent Expert, Prof Manfred Nowak, academia, and civil society including the NGO panel of 170 organisations that have been supporting the study since 2014 co-chaired by Defence for Children International and Human Rights Watch. Whilst on 8 October one month earlier, the report on the Global Study summarising the conclusions and recommendations was presented by the Independent Expert to the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.
As we celebrate 30 years of the UN Convention on the rights of the child for all the achievements that have been made, it is also time to reflect on a particular category of children that are being systematically left behind and forgotten by the international community which is children deprived of their liberty within prisons, police custody, immigration detention, institutions and other places of deprivation of liberty.
“Our societies seem to have forgotten one very simple truth: Children should not be detained, because deprivation of liberty means deprivation of rights, agency, visibility, opportunities and love.” Prof. Manfred Nowak
The study finds that as a minimum 1,5 million children per year are detained around the world according to the definition adopted by the study, however Prof. Manfred Nowak estimates that up to 7 million children per year are effectively detained against their best interests and in contradiction to international standards including the provisions of the Convention on the rights of the child, ratified by all States except one, whereby children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period meaning that alternatives and family based care should always be sought out.
The Global Study in numbers
- 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 interest 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.
“We need to give visibility to the Global Study, show it everywhere it can be shown, disseminate the recommendations, and talk about it so as nobody can say ‘we did not know how we treat children’”, said Benoit Van Keirsbilck, director of DCI Belgium at the Geneva launch of the Global Study, “we have been harming children for many years and this has to stop.”
States who have the ultimate responsibility to care and ensure the respect of the rights and dignity of children, also have the means to make the necessary changes to avoid detention of children which is recognised as a form of structural violence. Not only is this part of their international obligations but it is also part of their pledges towards the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, namely target 16.2 dedicated to the elimination of violence against children.
The NGO Panel for the Global Study composed of over 170 NGOs will now continue and intensify efforts against the deprivation of liberty of children and in favour of alternative measures and good practices included in the different chapters of the Global Study.
Since to launch of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, the Global Campus of Human Rights have developed a MOOC to learn more about the study.The MOOC is free and designed for participants around the word who are actively interested and engaged in children’s rights work and wish to deepen their knowledge about the protection of children deprived of liberty.
Sign up now! Course starts 18 November 2019!
Find out more here.
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.
The General Assembly report of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty will be presented on 8 October, 2019 to the Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Issues. The report presents a summary of the findings of the Global Study that assess the situation of the magnitude of children deprived of liberty.
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 41st session took place from 24 June to 12 July, 2019 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
Oral update by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights worldwide and on the activities of her office
The High Commissioner focused her opening remarks on a variety of human rights crises around the world, in particular on the plight of children. She expressed her concerns about the detention of the families of foreign suspected ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq where an estimated 29 000 children – mostly under 12 years of age – are being detained.
She condemned the killing of 37 men in Saudi Arabia, some of whom were children when the alleged crimes took place. She also expressed her concerns about the situation in Iran where children are continually being sentenced to death; two boys under 18 were sentenced to death and executed in April, and where a high number of child offenders are on death row awaiting execution.
Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, Alice Cruz
The Special Rapporteur affirmed that children affected by leprosy should not be forcibly separated, institutionalised and segregated in centres made for that effect. She also expressed concerns about children born to persons suffering from leprosy who are still forcibly removed from their parents at birth.
Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic, Marie-Thérèse Keita-Bocoum
The Independent Expert reaffirmed that specific attention must be paid to the situation of young persons who are particularly vulnerable to extremist discourses used by armed groups as new recruits. The programmes for the reintegration of young persons in certain provinces and the reduction of violence are positive initiatives and should be reproduced in other regions.
There is no juvenile justice system thus children are mixed with adults in prisons. The vast majority of children have no civil status or official documentation, and measures should be taken for these children to have access to school and healthcare and be considered as citizens, it should be a priority for the government.
Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially of women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro
The Special Rapporteur focused on social inclusion of persons that have been trafficked, which is an obligation for States and includes the right to effective remedy, satisfaction, non-repetition, and the right to compensation. Civil society and faith-based organisations also play a crucial role in being on the frontline helping vulnerable migrants, IDPs and children in the process of social integration.
A statement was delivered on behalf of the NGO Panel on Children Deprived of Liberty by Defence for Children International (DCI) that can be found here highlighting that as stated in Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In response to the issue of detention of trafficked and migrant children brought up in our statement, the Special Rapporteur responded by saying that she advocates for the banning of detention of children in migratory circumstances, stating that “in addition to the ordeal that they have been through, detention is an element of deep traumatisation with long lasting consequences”.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue with Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, with the Chair Meskerem Geset Techane
The persistence of gender stereotypes perpetuates discrimination against women including when talking about deprivation of liberty. Stereotypes are often transcribed into law and women who fail to comply face sanctions and punishment to regulate and change their behaviour. Women are imprisoned when defending themselves from violence, imprisoned by domestic violence and kidnapping, forced marriage and sexual slavery.
Side-event for the Global Study: Count children to make them count – Filling the data gap
On Tuesday 25, June 2019, Defence for Children International (DCI) as co-convener of the NGO Panel on Children Deprived of Liberty organised a side event moderated by Anna Tomasi (OHCHR), with opening remarks from H.E. Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger of Austria, H.E. Ambassador Geert Muylle of Belgium, and H.E. Ambassador Sek Wannamethee of Thailand, and interventions from Prof. Manfred Nowak Independent Expert for the Global Study, Prof. Ann Skelton Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Karen Van Laethem President of the Belgium National Commission of the Rights of the Child, and Brianna Smith from Children of Prisoners Europe.
Prof. Manfred Nowak announced that the Global Study will be presented on 8 October to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. In addition to the 30-page report for the UN General Assembly, a 500-page book will also be submitted. Prof. Nowak highlighted that they received 112 replies from 82 countries (half of them from Europe, 27 from Africa, 20 from Asia, 19 from North and Latin America, and 5 from Oceania).
It will be the first Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty with reliable statistical data on the number of children being detained. The speakers highlighted how crucial data is for children deprived of liberty to understand the scope of the issue and to respond effectively and appropriately, always respecting children’s rights. The focus now will be to ensure the follow-up and the implementation of the recommendations of the Global Study.
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 40th session took place from February 25th to March 22nd at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Deprivation of liberty was an issue that the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty followed during the session, participating in the plenary sessions and side events, meetings with different stakeholders and conducting advocacy.
Annual Day on the Rights of the Child: Empowering Children with Disabilities, including through Inclusive Education
On March 4, the Human Rights Council held its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion focusing on empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including through inclusive education. The specific situation of children with disabilities placed in institutions was highlighted on several occasions by delegations and civil society participants as well as UN experts. Defence for Children International delivered a statement highlighting the situation of children deprived of liberty in institutions and the need for more disaggregated data and solutions.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC)
On March 5, 2019, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, presented her report on the abduction of children in armed conflict and children of or recruited as foreign fighters.
Ms. Gamba stressed that protracted and high-intensity conflicts, cyclical spikes in violence, and operations to counter violent extremism had continued to make children around the world the primary victim of war. She singled out three trends that required attention:
- the conditions of children detained for their alleged association to violent extremist groups;
- attacks on schools; and
- the abduction of children and its cross-border effects.
Child recruitment and use by non-State armed groups raised new challenges from a child protection perspective, she stated. On children and armed conflict, delegations also highlighted their grave concerned that children in armed conflict continued to be subjected to appalling violations of human rights, notably recruitment, indoctrination and violence. It was emphasized that continued access to safe education could help protect children and youth from the impact of armed conflict. The reintegration of children was necessary to guarantee peace and security and break the cycle of violence.
The delegation of Austria mentioned the importance of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty and thanked the SRSG and her office for their engagement in the Study.
Defence for Children International (DCI) delivered a statement on behalf of the NGO Panel for the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. The Panel welcomed the report of the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict and its focus on the abduction of children in armed conflict and children of or recruited as foreign fighters. The statement highlighted the ongoing detention of children on national security grounds and call on States to continue to contribute to and support the development of the Study and its follow-up.
Side Event on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Children
On March 6, 2019, Defence for Children International (DCI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Swiss Mission to the United Nations and the European Union delegation to the United Nations co-hosted a side event on the Impact of Counter-Terrorism Measures on Children including their deprivation of liberty. The event also focused on how these issues will be addressed by the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.
The panel featured Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG), Mr. Leo Ratledge, Legal and Policy Director at Child Rights International Network (CRIN), Ms. Jo Becker, Advocacy Director of the Children’s Rights division at HRW, and Professor Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert leading the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, with Alex Kamarotos, Executive Director of DCI – International Secretariat as moderator.
The panel opened with the intervention of SRSG Gamba who presented her recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, which included a focus on the abduction of children in armed conflict and children of or recruited as foreign fighters. Leo Ratledge presented CRIN’s recent study “Caught in the Crossfire” about the effect of counter-terrorism legislation on children calling for a safeguarding approach, not criminalisation. Jo Becker presented Human Rights Watch’s new report “Everyone Must Confess:” Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq.” She reinforced the message that rehabilitation is key.
The participation of Professor Manfred Nowak focused on the Study and its preliminary data. He expressed concerns about broad legislation in the area of national security. Prof. Nowak stressed that children should only be tried through juvenile justice systems and that a peaceful reintegration avoiding deprivation of liberty is key. He reminded participants of the legal framework on deprivation of liberty of children and made links to the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly 16.2 – End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children.
The panellists agreed on the need to adopt a human rights approach emphasising the effectiveness and importance of prevention and rehabilitation. They also recognized that children should only be tried through juvenile justice systems and that peaceful reintegration avoiding deprivation of liberty is key.
The panel was followed by an interactive question and answer session. SRSG Gamba stressed the importance of the Global Study and the support of her office for its development. She noted that the Study will help to address the lack of data and information on deprivation of liberty. Professor Nowak concluded the event noting that the Study will include recommendations regarding all the different types of deprivation of liberty of children and non-custodial measures.
On March 6-7, 2019 the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, presented her report on the rights to liberty and security for people with disabilities. She stated that the deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities was a serious human rights problem, which remained under-reported. Persons with disabilities were disproportionately overrepresented in traditional places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons and migration detention centres. They also had to face specific and unique forms of deprivation of liberty, such as institutionalization, involuntary hospitalization, and confinement at home.
She called on States which had reservations to article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities –calling for the elimination of the deprivation of liberty for persons with disabilities – to lift them. She urged states to adopt a rights-based approach and to find alternatives to deprivation of liberty in the community. States should approach that question from the rights-based perspective. Community-based responses could be found, and they greatly improved the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
Report from UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism
During the session, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented its report on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The 2019 report focused on children, including child victims and witnesses of terrorist acts, children at perceived risk of recruitment and children associated or suspected of association with terrorist groups. It emphasizes that children in all such situations must be considered and treated as victims of terrorism.
The report highlights that deprivation of liberty of children should only be used a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time, in line with international standards. It emphasises that formerly associated children who are detained should have access to any necessary rehabilitative health care and psychosocial support, as well as reintegration programmes, both in detention and upon release.
The final Experts meeting for the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was held at the Global Campus of Human Rights in Venice, Italy from March 11th – 13th included. Representatives from the Advisory Board, research groups, the NGO Panel, and the UN Inter-Agency Task Force attended three full days of meetings covering each of the pillars of the Study: children deprived of liberty in the administration of justice; children living in places of detention with their parents; children deprived of liberty for migration-related reasons; children deprived of liberty in institutions; children deprived of liberty related to armed conflict and children deprived of liberty for national security reasons. The cross-cutting themes of the impact of deprivation on liberty on children’s health, gender, children with disabilities, and children’s experiences of deprivation of liberty were discussed as well as over-arching topics such as the legal framework, conclusions and recommendations, and follow-up to the Study. Research leads for both the cross-cutting and thematic chapters presented their drafts, followed by extensive feedback from participants. The Global Study will be finalized in the coming months and the report will be delivered to the UN General Assembly in October 2019.