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Detention is inextricably linked with ill-treatment, children must be protected – UN expert

Children must be protected

10 March 2015

GENEVA (10 March 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today urged States to adopt new alternatives to the detention of children that fulfill the child’s best interests and the authorities’ obligation to protect them from torture or other ill-treatment.

“The detention of children is inextricably linked – in fact if not in law – with the ill-treatment of children, owing to the particularly vulnerable situation in which they have been placed that exposes them to numerous types of risk,” Mr. Méndez said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The particular vulnerability of children imposes a heightened obligation of due diligence on States to take additional measures to ensure their human rights to life, health, dignity and physical and mental integrity,” he said. “However, the response to address the key issues and causes is often insufficient.”

The human rights expert noted that the deprivation of liberty of children is intended to be a last resort measure, to be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if is in the best interests of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.

“Failure to recognize or apply these safeguards increases the risk of children being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, and implicates State responsibility,” Mr. Méndez warned. He called for the adoption of “higher standards to classify treatment and punishment as cruel, inhuman or degrading in the case of children.”

In addition, the Special Rapporteur pointed out that inappropriate conditions of detention - including pretrial and post-trial incarceration as well as institutionalisation and administrative immigration detention- exacerbate the harmful effects on children deprived of their liberty.

“Within the context of administrative immigration enforcement, it is now clear that the deprivation of liberty of children based on their or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child,” he added. “It exceeds the requirement of necessity, becomes grossly disproportionate and may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of migrant children.”

“States should, expeditiously and completely, cease the detention of children, with or without their parents, on the basis of their immigration status,” Mr. Méndez said.
“One of the most important sources of ill-treatment of children in those institutions is the lack of basic resources and proper government oversight,” the UN Special Rapporteur noted. “Regular and independent monitoring of places where children are deprived of their liberty is a key factor in preventing torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” he concluded.

(*) Read the full report by the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/28/68):

Mr. Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2010. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Learn more, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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