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 was 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.

Three years after the publication of the Global Study, the Global Forum, organised by Defence for Children International, Terre des hommes and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on November 8th-9th 2022, was an opportunity to take stock and define action for the coming years. In this sense, the Global Forum was aimed at discussing, analysing and pointing out new recommendations on the pressing issues of justice for children and the deprivation of their 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.

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 2019whilst 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.”

Global Forum on Justice for Children and Deprivation of Liberty

The Global Forum was a multistakeholder event with many different perspectives on the issue, hosted many diverse participants, such as representatives of the NGO Panel on Children Deprived of Liberty, representatives from UN agencies, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, official from the Mauritanian government, and child rights practitioners from national, regional and international levels, among others.

The plenary and breakout discussions fed into a Roadmap to Action to guide our joint activities on justice and deprivation of liberty over the coming two years (2023-2024). The Roadmap identifies key recommendations from the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty that need to be implemented urgently as well as key initiatives and opportunities for stakeholders to work together. The Roadmap to Action 2023-2024 is published here.

Read the Global Forum Round up here

This post is also available in: FR, ES