The UN acts to protect women and girls in detention

On 14 July 2023, the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on "Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls in criminal justice detention".

Over the past decades, the number of women in prison has grown at a disproportionately higher rate than that of men. In the period between 2000 and 2022, while the number of women and girls in prison has grown by almost 60%, the male prison population increased by around 22%. The increase has reached more than 50% in Asia, 19% in Central and South America, and 24% in Africa. This situation is concerning, as detained women are often the target of human rights abuses.

The adopted resolution – to which the OMCT contributed through informal consultations – stresses the detrimental effects of criminal justice detention on inmates and notes with concern the increasing number of women and girls being incarcerated for minor and non-violent offences. Detained women and girls are at further risk of being exposed to sexual assault, sexual abuse and harassment, forced and coerced abortion and sterilization, arbitrary use of force or restraints on them, which may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This resolution calls on States to take immediate and effective actions to respond to all forms of violence against women and girls in detention and to protect victims. National legislations should align with international norms and standards. Authorities should provide trauma-informed and victim-centred training to all relevant staff working in detention. Prisons should be monitored by independent bodies, facilitating the report of violence and abuse. All allegations of sexual and gender-based violence should be prosecuted and the perpetrators sanctioned. Victims should have access to effective remedies.

The resolution also highlights steps to be taken by States to protect the safety and security of mothers in detention, including pregnant women and girls, breastfeeding women and mothers with children.

Finally, the resolution specifically addresses the situation of Indigenous women and girls, as well as women and girls belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups, who face disproportionate policing and criminalization, due to racial, ethnic and gender biases.

The OMCT welcomes the adoption of this comprehensive resolution as it will represent an important tool to protect the rights of detained women and girls.