During the 2021 World Congress on Justice With Children, Defence for Children International (DCI) organised a panel discussion entitled: Promoting Alternative Solutions to Deprivation of Liberty as a follow-up to the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty & Immediate Priorities, held on November 15th, 2021.
The Panel aimed to provide guidance on new developments in the field, disseminate recommendations of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (GSCDL); exchange promising practices, such as investment in non-custodial measures to ensure children’s safe reintegration into families and communities; advocate for the follow up of data collection on children deprived of liberty; highlight good and innovative practices that enable children’s and youth effective and meaningful participation in these objectives; elaborate the roles of relevant stakeholders in assisting Member States in the implementation of their international legal obligations and political commitments.
In the opening remarks, Virginia Gamba, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict underlined that deprivation of liberty has a destructive impact on children’s physical and mental development and often compounds conflict-related trauma and urged to invest in child protection resources for data collection to provide high-quality programmatic responses to children deprived of liberty. Ms Gamba stressed the particular concern on children deprived of liberty on national security charges where children are equally processed as adults. In some situations, children are associated with armed groups without due process and disregarded their special rights and status as children.
“Detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period, and prioritised together with age, and gender-sensitive, long term reintegration programming”
She further called on States to adopt and implement standard operating procedures to ensure the handover of children released or separated from armed groups to civilian child protection actors that can then provide them with tailored support services, and to increase investment in reintegration programmes for children to prevent the recruitment and use of children in conflict, and to support States to enhance the national legal frameworks to prevent children’s deprivation of liberty and prioritise concrete alternatives to detention.
In a video message, Najat Maalla M’jid, UN SRSG on Violence Against Children underlined that deprivation of liberty is one of the most harmful violations of children rights and it is a form of violence against children and detailed the UN Taskforce commitment to continue to support member States to scale up positive policies on the alternatives to detention and non-custodial measures in line with the 2030 agenda and urged to invest in prevention and in child rights-based alternatives to children’s deprivation of liberty.
General Comment No.24 on children rights in the child justice system is authoritative guidance for State parties and a very important tool for advocacy for children and stakeholders.
Mikiko Otani, Chair of Committee on the Rights of the Child reiterated the importance of the national implementation of recommendations included in the GSCDL. She furthermore noted the relevance of strengthening data collection and expressed that the Committee can consider including asking the States to continue collecting data on what they have done in response to the Global Study questionnaire.
Vassiliy Yuzhanin, head of the International Migration Law Unit at IOM and Member of the UN Task Force on children deprived of liberty expressed that children should never be deprived of their liberty due to migration-related reasons and underlined that national migration policies should be aligned with international law standards and guidelines and keep at the centre the best interest of the child. Reiterated the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach for alternative solutions to deprivation liberty and encouraged to develop innovative tools for data collection.
Jo Becker, Advocacy Director, of Human Rights Watch, and co-chair of the NGO Panel on Children Deprived of Liberty highlighted that the handover protocols on the Global Study of Children Deprived of Liberty as a concrete tool for promoting the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups.
“Civil society is critical for the follow-up, implementation and monitoring of the Global Study”
Ms. Becker further remarked that in 2019, Mexico detained over 50,000 child migrants, mostly from Honduras and Guatemala, but after years of advocacy by the International Detention Coalition and others, a new law took effect in Mexico banning the detention of migrant children. She commented that in California, there was many as 10,000 children held in prisons across the State where they experienced violence and education was inadequate, but now the State is closing these prisons down and investing 200 million USD to local rehabilitation programmes, putting money into counselling, education, and recreation underlying that alternative to deprivation of liberty does exist.
“Education is the best tool to prevent children’s contact with the law”
Mohamed, a youth advocate from Sierra Leone and part of DCI’s Youth Ambassadors for Change shared during the panel that education is the best tool to prevent children’s contact with the law and call on States to continue supporting organisations that work with children deprived of liberty. Mohamed expressed that the focus should be on prevention and in this regard, education is a key component to preventing children from getting in contact with the justice systems.