by Sasha Richards,
Geneva, Switzerland – While children are not the primary victims of COVID-19, they are one of the primary victims of numerous indirect consequences brought on by the global pandemic. As isolation and confinement measures increase across the planet, it is important to highlight that such measures are particularly detrimental to children who are currently deprived of their liberty. Living in detention centres, children deprived of liberty face violations of their rights such as inconsistent and inadequate implementation of basic health recommendations and overcrowding. Cut off from their families as detention centres shut to outside visitors not only causes emotional and psychological distress but also affects children’s access to food or clean linen and clothes supplied by visiting family members. Lack of access to education and other rehabilitative activities leave them confined to their cells for long periods of time, effectively submitting them to solitary confinement. In addition, reduction of prison personnel and lack of funds decrease the care that children deprived of liberty receive.
Depriving children is never in their best interest, a sentiment that cannot be more asserted now. States must take advantage of the various alternatives to detention that exist, which includes non-custodial measures and diversion away from the justice system to removing procedural barriers that impede children from being released. It is urgent that children deprived of liberty, including those in pre-trial detention, be freed as early and as much possible.
While never timelier than now, measures aimed at avoiding detention of children must not only be created but effectively implemented and strictly enforced, whether it relates to children in conflict with the law or children on the move. The plight of these children is not new. Children have always suffered the myriad of problems raised; yet the current global pandemic has exacerbated their conditions. Encouraged by some States who, in the face of the pandemic, have released children in detention, we encourage them to continue such measures now and in the future. Just because children deprived of liberty are behind bars or within camps does not mean they stop being children or that they can be forgotten. Indeed, it is children deprived of liberty who are at the most risk of experiencing life-altering consequences.
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