The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates the number of children arrested for allegedly committing a crime or accused of committing a crime at 261,000, according to data from an analysis that warns that, due to incomplete records and systems With poor administrative data in many countries, the figure could be much higher.
The analysis, entitled ‘Estimating the number of children deprived of liberty in the administration of justice’, the first of its kind since 2007, calls for a justice reform to end the detention of all children.
On the eve of the World Congress on Justice for Children, UNICEF has also unveiled ‘The detention of children in the time of COVID’, which reveals that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 45,000 children have been released and safely returned to their families.
Specifically, the report reveals that governments and prison authorities in at least 84 countries have released thousands of children since April 2020, when UNICEF drew attention to the increased risk they ran of contracting COVID-19 in spaces confined and overcrowded, and called for their immediate release.
Children in detention – including those in custody before and after the trial, those detained for immigration reasons, those held for reasons of armed conflict or national security, or those living with their detained parents– they are often held in confined spaces and in a crowded situation.
UNICEF has warned that they lack adequate access to nutrition, health care and hygiene services and are vulnerable to abandonment, physical and psychological abuse and gender-based violence. Many are denied the possibility of consulting lawyers and family care and cannot challenge the legality of their detention.
COVID-19 has profoundly affected the justice system for children, forcing courts to close and restricting access to essential justice and social services. Evidence shows that many children, including those living on the streets, have been arrested for violating curfew orders and movement restrictions.
“We have long known that justice systems are ill-equipped to address the specific needs of children, a situation that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
In this regard, she has praised the countries that have heeded UNICEF’s appeal and released detained children. “By protecting children from conditions that could have exposed them to serious illness, these countries have been able to overcome the resistance of public opinion and promote innovative judicial solutions that are adapted to the age of the children,” he said. , before underlining that this option “has shown” that “judicial solutions adapted to children are more than possible”.
REIMAGINING CHILD JUSTICE
For this reason, and with the aim of reimagining child justice and safely ending the detention of all children, UNICEF has called on governments and civil society to invest in the dissemination of information on the legal rights of children. children in justice and welfare systems, especially for the most marginalized children, and expand free legal aid, representation and services for all children.
Likewise, it has called on governments and civil society to give priority to prevention and early intervention to prevent children from committing crimes and to establish appropriate alternatives to detention and end the detention of children, among other things through legal reforms that increase the age of criminal responsibility.
On the other hand, the United Nations agency has called for guaranteeing justice for child survivors of sexual violence, abuse or exploitation, including investment in justice processes that take into account children and gender issues, and and finally, the establishment of specialized and child-friendly courts, as well as virtual and mobile courts.
“The detention of any child is proof of the failure of the system, but that failure has more consequences because the justice systems designed to protect and support children tend to aggravate their suffering,” said Fore, who has asked “to work together.” to end the detention of children as policy makers, legal professionals, academics, civil society and children and young people come together this week at the World Congress.