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Deprivation of liberty should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), article 37 (b)


The exact number of children deprived of liberty remains unknown. Despite evidence that detention is costly, ineffective and negatively impacts children’s health and development, far too many children continue to be deprived of their liberty and are exposed to increased risks of abuse, violence, acute social discrimination and denial of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The lack of comprehensive and disaggregated data on child detention impedes a clear vision of the scale of the issue and the conditions under which children are deprived of their liberty.

To shed light on this grave issue, Defence for Children International launched a campaign calling for a Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (GSCDL) in March 2014. The campaign culminated its preliminary phase successfully with the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) child rights resolution 69/157 (paragraph 51.d) formally requesting the Study to be carried out (December 2014). The technical requirements of the Study are currently being defined and it is expected that the implementation phase of the Study will arch from early 2016 to the end of 2017.

Timeline of the campaign for the GSCDL

March 2014: Official launch

 During the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child (13 march 2014), DCI together with other NGOs (forming the “NGO Panel for the GSCDL”) organized an event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The event included high-level experts and Member States supporting the campaign and the need for a Study, namely: Marta Santos País (Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children), Renate Winter (UNCRC Committee member) and the Permanent Missions of Uruguay, Qatar, Austria and Ethiopia. Moreover, later in March, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children officially supported the campaign by making a public statement. 

May 2014: UNCRC Committee sends letter to the UN Secretary General

A letter by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and a separate letter by the NGO Panel, both formally requesting the Study to be carried out and that there be the appointment of an Independent Expert to guide its implementation, were sent to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

June 2014: Expert Consultation in Geneva

An expert consultation was organized (13 June 2015) with UN experts, UN Member States, academia and civil society organizations in order to discuss the potential implementation of the Study, including methodology to be followed. The full report of the event is available here.

September 2014: Statement delivered at the 27th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC)

DCI, on behalf of the NGO Panel for the GSCDL, delivered a statement on the occasion of the 27th session of the United Nations HRC, further raising awareness and advocating for the campaign and the critical need for a Study. Read the full statement here.

October 2014: High level event in New York

A high-level event was organized in New York, together with Human Rights Watch. The panel, composed of the Marta Santos País (Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children), Susan Bissell (Chief of the Child Protection Section at UNICEF) and Kirsten Sandberg (Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child), reiterated the lack of data on children deprived of their liberty and the need to appoint an Independent Expert to lead the GSCDL.

November 2014: Letters sent to UN Secretary General

The NGO Panel addressed a letter to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to urge the appointment of an Independent Expert to ensure a comprehensive and collaborative approach to the Study. In addition, Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, officially supported the recommendation made by the UNCRC Committee in May - making a public statement supporting the need for a Study and the respective appointment of an Independent Expert to guide its effective realization.

December 2014: The GSCDL is officially requested through the UN General Assembly

The UN officially requested the GSCDL to be carried out through the child rights resolution of the General Assembly (Resolution 69/157 para. 51.d), marking the success of the campaign and the first step towards the concrete implementation of the Study. Read DCI’s press release.


January 2015: Support at the World Congress on Juvenile Justice (Geneva, Switzerland)

The first World Congress on Juvenile Justice (26-30 January) was an important forum to raise awareness among experts from all over the world (over 800 participants attended). The Study was discussed across most panels and was also underlined during the conclusive remarks of the Congress. The support for the GSCDL was formalized in its final declaration.


March 2015: Support at the 28th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC)

The GSDCL was formally supported in the annual reports to the HRC of Marta Santos País, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children; Leila Zerrougui, SRSG on Children and Armed Conflicts; and Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur (SR) on Torture. A side-event was also organized by DCI, and included the participation of the aforementioned experts, as well as members of the NGO Panel (DCI, World Organization against Torture (OMCT) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). Read the report and re-watch the event by clicking here.


April 2015: Support & awareness-raising at the 13th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Doha, Qatar)

DCI organized a side-event and met with experts and Member States to further raise awareness and support for the Study. As a result, the GSCDL was formally mentioned in the final outcome document of the Congress (“Doha Declaration”).


November 2015: UN Secretary General's statement on Universal Children’s Day

On the occasion of Universal Children’s Day (20 November), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered a statement in which he emphasized “the importance of ensuring that the commitments made by the international community to the world’s children are extended to a group of children who are often forgotten or overlooked: those deprived of their liberty”. In his message, he expressed full support for the GSDCL and informed that the Study is currently under preparation.


March 2016: Side-event and statement at HRC31, the implementation phase is getting closer

DCI, as co-convenor of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, organized a side-event to the Human Rights Council on Thursday 10 March 2016, together with the OHCHR, the SRSGs on Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict, the SR on Torture, UNODC and Unicef, and with the support of the Permanent Missions of Algeria, Norway, Uruguay and Switzerland.

In his introductory speech, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that “children who are deprived of liberty fall into a statistical vacuum, with numbers of these children potentially ranging anywhere from the tens of thousands to the millions”.  Anna Giudice Saget of UNODC added that the study will provide appropriate information and evidence to policy makers, hence enabling them to plan and implement effective strategies to drastically reduce the number of children deprived of their liberty worldwide. As all panellists noted, the detention of children continues to remain common practice while it should be used as a last resort. Marta Santos Pais, SRSG on Violence against Children, also recalled that the study was a moral, ethical and legal imperative, directly in line with the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

The event discussed the next steps for further advancing Study. In particular, as reiterated by all panellists, an urgent commitment towards its funding would be necessary and the support expressed by States would now have to be translated into tangible resources. Peggy Hicks, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicated that her office would be willing to host the secretariat for the study should funding be made available.

Last but not least, panellists agreed on the necessity to have an independent expert appointed to conduct this Study. In this regard, DCI delivered a statement to the Human Rights Council during the Interactive Dialogue with the SRSG on Violence against Children on Tuesday 8 March. Read the statement here.

September 2016: new call for support on occasion of UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants

A joint press release was sent out on Monday 19 September to call upon States to put an end to the immigration detention of children. Support for the Global Study, which will collect quantitative and qualitative disaggregated data on the situation of children deprived of liberty in all settings, migration included, was reiterated.


Aim & Scope of the Study

The aim of the Study is to collect sorely needed data and statistics from across regions on the number and situation of children in detention, as well as share good practices, and formulate recommendations for effective measures to prevent human rights violations against children in detention and ultimately reduce the number of children deprived of liberty.

The Study will be broad in scope and take into account deprivation of liberty in all its forms, including: children in conflict with the law (or other local norms and customs); children confined due to physical or mental disabilities or drug use; children detained with their parents or other relatives; immigration detention (refugee, asylum seeker, and irregular migrant children); children detained for their protection (e.g. street children, girls vulnerable to honor crimes, etc.); detention for national security reasons (e.g. children suspected of participation in armed conflict).

Appointment of an Independent Expert: a priority

Since launching the campaign, the NGO Panel has been calling for the appointment of an Independent Expert to impartially guide the Study and correctly broker coordination among all relevant UN agencies and stakeholders to be involved in its implementation. Furthermore, appointing an Independent Expert is also consistent with past practice: the two previous studies on children requested by the General Assembly were led by independent experts: Graça Machel conducted the Secretary General’s study on children affected by armed conflict (1996) and Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro conducted the Secretary General’s study on violence against children (2006).

As of November 2015, over 90 non-governmental organisations have shown their support and signed onto the call for the GSCDL. See the complete list of signatories.


For more information and to support the Global Study of Children Deprived of Liberty, please visit

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