Children Deprived of Liberty - The United Nations Global Study

Two small children behind a fence at a centre for refugees and migrants. © EPA / YANNIS KOLESIDISDespite progress in the realization of children’s rights, as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, too many commitments remain unfulfilled. This is particularly true for children deprived of liberty, who often remain invisible and forgotten.

Most countries lack data on the number of children deprived of liberty, on the reasons, length and places of detention. Children’s detention may be decided by judicial, administrative or other bodies, including the police, military authorities, immigration officials, child protection or welfare bodies, health professionals, and non-state actors, including in situations of armed conflict.

Children living on the street, victims of trafficking, prostitution, organized crime and conflict situations are at special risk. Others may end up in detention as a result of a disability, mental health or drug abuse, or because of their migration or asylum seeking status. In situations of armed conflict, detention is used by military or national security actors as a tool to hold vast numbers of children because they are perceived as a threat to national security or because they have allegedly participated in hostilities.

Children deprived of liberty remain an invisible and forgotten group in society in spite of increasing evidence of being victims of human rights violations. Countless children are placed in inhuman conditions and in adult facilities, where they are at high risk of violence, rape and sexual assault, including acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Children are being detained at a younger and younger age, and held for longer periods of time. The personal cost to these children is immeasurable in terms of the destructive impact on their development, and on their ability to lead healthy and constructive lives in their societies.

The associated financial costs to governments can also have a negative impact on national budgets, and can become a financial drain when child-centred approaches are not utilised.

To address this situation, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by resolution 69/157, invited the UN Secretary-General to commission an in-depth global study on children deprived of liberty. On 25 October 2016, the Secretary General welcomed the selection of Manfred Nowak as Independent expert to lead the new global study on the situation of children deprived of liberty. By resolution 71/177 the General Assembly invited the independent expert to submit a final report at its seventy-third session in September 2018.

The Global Study

The core objectives of the Global Study are to:

  1. assess the magnitude of this phenomenon, including the number of children deprived of liberty (broken down by age, gender, ethnic, social and national origin, disability and other grounds), as well as the reasons invoked, the root-causes, type and length of deprivation of liberty and places of detention;
  2. document good practices and capture the views and experiences of children to inform the Global Study’s recommendations;
  3. promote a change in stigmatizing attitudes and behaviour towards children at risk or who are deprived of liberty; and
  4. provide recommendations for law, policy and practice to safeguard the rights of children concerned, and prevent and significantly reduce the number of children deprived of liberty through effective non-custodial alternatives, guided by the best interest of the child.