Child detention: a Practical Guide

Presentation of the Practical Guide

Defence for Children International – Belgium, leading organisation of the “Children’s Rights Behind Barsproject, released on 15 February 2016 the very first European Practical Guide dedicated to the monitoring of places of deprivation of liberty for children. The Guide was officially presented at the project’s final conference held in Brussels, Belgium.  (Read DCI-Belgium’s press release – French only).

The 166-page document is the outcome of the 2-year, EU-funded project in which 14 partner organisations and 11 high-level international experts on justice and children’s rights brought their specific skills and expertise together. The Guide is an innovative practical tool that offers a child sensitive and preventive perspective on the monitoring of child detention facilities, which is to be used as a blueprint document for action.

The Practical Guide can be downloaded for free here.

Presentation at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday 7 March

On Monday 7 March 2016, Defence for Children International in collaboration with the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) and the Anti-Torture Initiative, held a side-event to the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to present the guide and to discuss and identify the various opportunities for its use and cross-pollination in other regions.

The Practical Guide was warmly welcomed and highly praised by all the experts in the panel. Ms. Regina Jensdottir of the Council of Europe, which supported the elaboration of the guide, stated that the guide needs to be widely distributed. She suggested that a training manual be developed to allow States to train professionals working within the justice system. Jean Zermatten, former chair of the CRC Committee, referred to it as the “Swiss knife” of monitoring, while Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, defined it as the gold standard to monitor places where children are deprived of liberty. Mr Mendez particularly referred to the know-how approach provided by the Guide and recalled that it is crucial that “visits by independent experts must be regular and unannounced”.

In addition, all panellists welcomed the wide definition of “deprivation of liberty”, which includes, among others, administrative detention, migration detention and deprivation of liberty in mental health institutions.

Despite a clear consensus on the usefulness of the Guide, panellists also reminded us that children’s rights continue to be at risk. Juan Mendez and Regina Jensdottir reiterated that deprivation of liberty is never in the best interest of the child while Jean Zermatten re-emphasized the need for “juvenile justice systems to incorporate answers tailored to each child, rather than promoting automatic responses”.

The panel discussion was followed by a Questions and Answers session in which child participation came across strongly. The possibility of involving children in the monitoring process was raised, as well as the need to promote dialogue between children and staff members in places of deprivation of liberty. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Jensdottir suggested that a child-friendly version of the guide and related materials would be a way to enhance child participation.

To know more about the “Children’s Rights Behind Bars” project, please visit:

This post is also available in: FR, ES