Press Conference: Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Op. Ed by Manfred Novak on the Global Study on Children deprived of Liberty

By Manfred Nowak

At this very moment, millions of children are languishing in prisons, detention centers and institutions around the world. Every one of these children is at great risk of irreversible harm. Even short periods of detention can profoundly impair healthy developments in children, and the lasting impact can rob them of their rightful chance to live productive lives.

Yet we know so little about these children and about their lives, that it has been next to impossible to effectively address their plight, restore them to freedom and their families, and give them back their futures. There are no worldwide statistics available on these children or on what national efforts are underway to support and reach them.

Recognizing that reliable data is critical in creating sound policies and sustaining meaningful change, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2014 to conduct an in-depth Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, to be financed by Member States through voluntary contributions. In October 2016, I was appointed to lead the Global Study.

Regrettably, only two of the of 193 UN Member States (Austria and Switzerland) have contributed funds so far, and time is running out. The study will require a total of US$4.7 million dollars; we must garner US$1million of that amount in pledges before the study can begin.

Now I am calling on every UN Member State to come forward and pledge the funds necessary.

The Global Study has received the support of UN agencies and Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alike. Worldwide, 139 NGOs are on board. But we need more than their support – we must secure funding from UN Member States to ensure the Study’s effective implementation.

To date there have only been two previous global studies on children: the 1996 Study on Children in Armed Conflict, led by Graça Machel and the 2006 Study on Violence against Children, led by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. Each has resulted in sweeping change and measurable improvement in the wellbeing of children across the globe. Such studies establish standardized definitions; clear, globally agreed recommendations for action; and measures to hold nations to account.

The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty offers a unique opportunity to gain a global understanding of the scale and gravity of the situations of voiceless and helpless children hidden behind bleak institutional walls, and to help set a course of correction.

We cannot afford to let this opportunity to slip through our fingers.

Visit and the OHCHR website for more information and to get involved. 

Manfred Nowak is the Independent Expert appointed in 2016 to lead the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. A human rights attorney, he served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2004 to 2010.

©Juvenile Justice Advodcates International

140 NGOs call on governments to pledge funds to the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly requested an in-depth Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. This is a historic opportunity to improve the lives of millions of children deprived of their freedom and a milestone in advancing child protection globally. Professor Manfred Nowak has been appointed as the Independent Expert to lead the effort, but so far only two states, Austria and Switzerland, have made donations towards the total cost. Given the Study is to be funded entirely by voluntary donations, the whole process is now at risk.

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 Global Study has the potential to bring global attention to children’s rights and spark far-reaching national and global reforms.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) began on 12 September. As heads of states come together to tackle global issues, this is an opportunity to make our calls heard by those that have the power to make the Study a reality.

How to get involved

From 26 September to 13 October, the NGO panel are asking Member States to pledge funds towards the Study. Join our call and download our campaign toolkit to show your support online

Why do we need the Study?

Despite progress in the realisation of children’s rights, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, too many commitments remain unfulfilled. This is particularly true for children deprived of liberty, who often remain invisible and forgotten.

Most countries lack data on the number of children deprived of liberty. Children living on the street, in institutions, victims of trafficking, prostitution, organised crime and conflict situations are at special risk.

Children deprived of liberty remain an invisible and forgotten group in society despite increasing evidence of being victims of human rights violations. Countless children are placed in inhuman conditions, where they are at high risk of violence, rape and sexual assault, including acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The personal cost to these children is immeasurable in terms of the destructive impact on their development, and on their ability to lead healthy and constructive lives in their societies.

To address this situation, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by resolution 69/157, invited the UN Secretary-General to commission an in-depth global study on children deprived of liberty. On 25 October 2016, the Secretary General welcomed the selection of Manfred Nowak as Independent expert to lead the new global study on the situation of children deprived of liberty. By resolution 71/177 the General Assembly invited the independent expert to submit a final report at its seventy-third session in September 2018.


For further information on the campaign, please contact Anna Tomasi

Join us in making the Study a reality.