Member States must cease detention of children, ensure their human rights – UN expert

10 March 2015

Member States must adopt new alternatives to the detention of children that fulfil the child's best interests and the authorities' obligation to protect them from torture and other ill-treatment, a United Nations human rights expert said today.

Presenting his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, warned that the detention and ill-treatment of children were inextricably linked and that it remained incumbent upon States to ensure that children were protected from the range of risks associated with the deprivation of liberty.

“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,” Mr. Méndez said. “However, the response to address the key issues and causes is often insufficient.”

The UN expert told delegates that authorities around the world should, as a result, adopt higher standards of classification for forms of treatment and punishment otherwise defined as cruel, inhuman or degrading, particularly when applied to children.

In the instance of immigration enforcement, he continued, the deprivation of liberty of children based on their or their parents' migration status remained an additional blight as it tended to exceed the requirement of necessity, becoming grossly disproportionate and constituting 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 declared.

Moreover, inappropriate conditions of detention, including pre-trial and post-trial incarceration, as well as institutionalisation and administrative immigration detention, exacerbated the harmful effects on detained children.

“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 concluded.

“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.”

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