Despite growing numbers of conflicts worldwide and internal and external migration, children deprived of liberty remain an often forgotten and invisible population. Numerous children are placed in inhuman conditions and facilities where their rights are violated, and they experience acts of violence and degrading treatments. The most important reason for children’s deprivation of liberty is lack of adequate support for families, caregivers, and communities to provide appropriate care and support during children’s development.
Indeed, until the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty is published, there was simply no reliable data on the numbers of children deprived of liberty in the world. Without these figures, the issue cannot be properly addressed, and the rights of millions of these “invisible children” remain unrealised.
Deprivation of liberty is, and has historically been, DCI’s overarching area of expertise. In our Strategic Framework 2017-2021, DCI established deprivation of liberty as a cross-cutting issue applicable to all of our thematic priorities: justice for children, violence against children, children on the move, and children affected by armed conflict. DCI’s activities range from the drafting of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985), the follow up project to the UNCRC’s General Comment No. 10 on Juvenile Justice (2007), to leading a call to action for a global study on children deprived of liberty.
At the international level, DCI mobilised all its influential stakeholders to adopt a UN General Assembly Resolution asking the Secretary-General to commission a global study on this subject. The United Nations General Assembly, in December 2014, invited the UN Secretary-General to conduct an in-depth study on children deprived of liberty (A/RES/69/157 § 52.d) and, on 25 October 2016, Professor Manfred Nowak was welcomed as the Independent Expert to lead the Study. During the development of the Global Study, DCI was co-convener of the NGO Panel which strongly influenced research and advocacy efforts for the study. Further, DCI co-organised the regional consultation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and participated efforts in Paris, France and Pretoria, South Africa. The UNHRC Resolution 72/245 called for the Independent Expert to present his final report on the Study by the 74th Human Rights Council session in September 2019.
Additionally, DCI International Secretariat an active member of the Child Rights Connect’s Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents. Initially, the Working Group was established to support the Committee on the Rights of the Child during its preparation for the 2011 Day of General Discussion on children of incarcerated parents. However, following the successful collaboration, the Working Group continues to raise awareness about the negative ramifications that incarceration of one or both parents have on children. The Working Group serves as a bridge between those who work directly with children of incarcerated parents and UN human rights mechanisms as they work towards justice for children for the purposes of discussing and strategizing on common actions and critical issues.
Nationally, DCI national sections (such as Palestine, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Ghana) work directly within detention facilities and places of deprivation of liberty, monitoring the detention conditions of children, providing socio-legal support and offering education or vocational training when states do not comply with their obligations. Some examples of our National Sections’ work encompass the project “Children’s Rights Behind Bars,” in which DCI-Belgium and DCI-Italy, alongside other governmental stakeholders and human rights organisations, aim to advance the protection of children deprived of their liberty by improving detention conditions, particularly through constant monitoring and training of justice professionals.
DCI’s flagship project, the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, forms a core part of our work on Justice for Children. The report of the Global Study was presented to the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly in New York on 8 October 2019, whilst the full UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty study was launched on 19 November in Geneva during the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After the official launches in New York and Geneva, regional and national launches will be taking place.
The Global Study includes chapters on administration of justice, on children living in places of detention with their parents, on children deprived of liberty for migration-related reasons, on children deprived of liberty in institutions; children deprived of liberty related to armed conflict; and children deprived of liberty related to national security. It reveals that, altogether, a minimum of between 1.3 and 1.5 million children are deprived of liberty per year. Of those, the largest number are in institutions (430,000–680,000), followed by those in the administration of justice (410,000), migration-related detention (330,000), in armed conflict situations (35,000) and for national security reasons (1,500). An additional 19,000 children are living with their primary caregivers in prisons.
DCI and the NGO Panel remain very committed to share the important recommendations of the Global Study and, together with relevant UN bodies and States, identify the most appropriate follow up after the implementation of the good practices identified. As Prof. Manfred Nowak outlined: “if there is no follow-up, the work done will be lost.”