World Children’s Day: time to prioritise alternatives to child detention


Geneva, 21 November 2022

On World Children’s Day, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) calls international attention to the millions of children deprived of liberty worldwide, who are still subjected to torture and other ill-treatment and detained in inhuman conditions.

Restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated the situation. After more than two years of the pandemic, the state of children in detention is alarming. Limited contact with the outside world has led, in particular, to a cruel lack of communication with families and a surge in torture and ill-treatment, in the absence of proper external oversight.

In Brazil, children continue to be victims of torture and other ill-treatment in detention: lack of access to clean water or ventilation, being locked up in cells for over 23 hours a day, or the use of handcuffs are only some of the daily violations of their rights.

In Benin, detained children have not been able to see their families since March 2020, as relatives and civil society are still prohibited from entering prisons.

In Uruguay, the pandemic has led to increased time spent in cells without access to outside spaces and a severe decrease in educational activities.

It is now crucial that family members, civil society organisations and lawyers can access children's prisons and detention centres to avoid additional trauma for the children.

While it’s urgent to put an end to the direct consequences of the pandemic on children in detention, it is the practice of depriving them of liberty that needs to be limited and replaced by applying the principle of incarceration as a last resort. The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the inherent limits of detention itself, whether it is the effects of long-term confinement, overcrowding conducive to spreading diseases, or the traumatic separation from families, among others.

This is even more the case for children, who, in their majority, should not be detained in the first place if the principle of detention of last resort was applied and alternatives prioritised.

« It is devastating to see that, in some countries where the resort to detention had decreased during the pandemic, we now witness a return to children being sent behind bars as a rule », said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT.

In Honduras, some children are detained in a maximum-security prison, where a child doesn’t belong in the first place.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the situation of detainees is the perfect opportunity for governments to, at long last, prioritise alternatives to detention for children and reduce deprivation of liberty in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information, please contact :
Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications

+41 79 539 41 06