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Press Release: Global Efforts Needed to Free Detained Children

UN Study Finds at Least1.5 Million Locked Up Each Year

(New York, October 7, 2019) -- A new global study on childrendeprived of their liberty should prompt United Nations member countries to takesteps to dramatically decrease the number of children detained and confined agroup of 170 non-governmental organizations said today.

Manfred Nowak, a UN independent expert, will present the UNGlobal Study on Children Deprived of Liberty to the UN General Assembly in NewYork on October 8, 2019. He found that approximately 1.5 million children aredeprived of their liberty each year.

“Children are often detained illegally, unnecessarily, andat great cost to their health and future,” said Alex Kamarotos, director ofDefense for Children International and co-chair of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on ChildrenDeprived of Liberty. “The Global Study should prompt every country to adoptnew policies and practices to dramatically decrease the number of children whoare locked up.”

The study examined the situation of children – anyone underage 18 – detained in the administration of justice, in immigration detention,in orphanages and other institutions, living in prison with their caregivers,and detained in the context of armed conflict and national security. The GlobalStudy’s estimate of at least 1.5 million children deprived of liberty is mostlikely a substantial undercount, due to uneven data collection and reporting.

Some of the Study’s key findings:

· At least 410,000 children are held every year injails and prisons, where violence is “endemic.” Many are charged with “statusoffenses” that are not criminal offenses for adults, including truancy, disobedience,and underage drinking;

· Although UN experts have concluded thatdetention of children for migration-related reasons can never be in the bestinterests of a child, at least 330,000 children in 77 countries are held inimmigration detention each year;

· While between 430,000 and 680,000 children havebeen placed by judicial authorities in institutions that meet the legaldefinition of deprivation of liberty, thetotal number of children in institutions is estimated at 3.5 to 5.5 million.

· Children with disabilities are significantlyoverrepresented in detention in the context of administration of justice andinstitutions.

· The number of children detained in the contextof armed conflict and national security has increased sharply, driven by aggressivecounter-terrorism measures that can include detention and prosecution ofchildren for online activity, including posts to Facebook and Twitter.

The Study found that deprivation of liberty aggravatesexisting health conditions in children and can cause new ones to emerge,including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress.Psychiatric disorders for children can increase tenfold during detention, anddetention is correlated with early death among children once released.

“Detention is fundamentally harmful to children, yet many countriesuse it as their first response to difficult circumstances, rather than thelast,” said Jo Becker, child rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watchand co-chair of the NGO Panel. “Governments should invest in alternatives thatnot only protect children’s rights but produce much better outcomes forchildren, families, and society overall.”

Nowak found some areas of progress, including a reduction insome countries in the number of children in institutional care or detained inthe criminal justice system. At least 21 governments said that they do notdetain children for migration-related purposes. Some countries have adoptedformal protocols to avoid detaining children in the context of armed conflict.The nongovernmental groups urged all countries to examine and adapt the goodpractices documented in the study.

Nowak recommended that states “most rigorously” apply theConvention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that deprivation of libertyshall be applied only as a measure of last resort in exceptional cases. Heurged countries to “make all efforts to significantly reduce the number ofchildren held in places of detention and prevent deprivation of liberty beforeit occurs, including addressing the root causes and pathways leading todeprivation of liberty in a systemic and holistic manner.”

The study was initiated by a UN General Assembly resolutionadopted in December 2014. Its findings are based on 12 regional and thematicconsultations, questionnaires requesting data from every UN member state,comprehensive reviews of literature on the subject, and additional research byexpert groups. In addition, the Study consulted 274 children and young adults –204 male and 70 female – between the ages of 10 to 24, and their views andperspectives inform the findings.

The NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived ofLiberty was established in 2013 and includes 170 local, national, andinternational non-governmental organizations worldwide. The Panel participatedin the study and coordinates efforts by nongovernmental groups to carry throughon its findings.

The members of the NGO Panel urged governments to carry outthe Global Study’s recommendations. These include collecting reliable andsystematic data on children deprived of liberty, and creating national actionplans aimed at an overall reduction in the number of children in detention and/orthe elimination of detention for children. The NGO Panel members also urged theGeneral Assembly to formally designate a UN entity to lead follow-up efforts.

The full study can be found online here:

The independent expert’s presentation of the study to the UNGeneral Assembly’s Third Committee on October 8 will be livestreamed here:

A panel discussion including the UN independent expert andother experts will take place at 6.15 PM (EDT) on October 8 at the UNICEF Housein New York, and will be livestreamed at

For more information:
Alex Kamarotos, Defense for ChildrenInternational (English, French, Spanish, Italian, Greek) +33607028641(mobile or whatsapp);

Jo Becker, HumanRights Watch (English) +1 914 263 9643 (mobile) or + 1 212 216 1236; ; Twitter: @jobeckerhrw

Benoit VanKeirsbilck, Defense for Children International (English, French,Dutch/Flemish), +32497420777 (mobile orwhatsapp);

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