The United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

Manfred Nowak

In its resolution 69/157 of 18 December 2014, the General Assembly invited the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth study on children deprived of liberty. In October 2016, Manfred Nowak (Austria) was appointed as Independent Expert leading the study, which is the first scientific attempt, on the basis of global data, to comprehend the magnitude of the situation of children deprived of liberty, its possible justifications and root causes, as well as conditions of detention and their harmful impact on the health and development of children. The study also identifies best practices in non-custodial solutions applied by States in relation to the following six situations: (a) detention of children in the administration of justice; (b) children living in prisons with their primary caregivers; (c) migration-related detention; (d) deprivation of liberty in institutions; (e) detention in the context of armed conflict; and (f) on national security grounds. The study proposes recommendations to support States and the United Nations in dealing with this phenomenon.

Based on the over-all mandate established by the UNGA Resolution, the following core objectives of the Global Study have been identified:

  1. Assess the magnitude of the phenomenon of children being deprived of liberty, including the number of children deprived of liberty (disaggregated by age, gender and nationality), as well as the reasons invoked, the root-causes, type and length of deprivation of liberty and places of detention;
  2. Document promising practices and capture the view and experiences of children to inform the recommendations that the Global Study will present;
  3. Promote a change in stigmatizing attitudes and behaviour towards children at risk of being, or who are, deprived of liberty;
  4. Provide recommendations for law, policy and practice to safeguard the human rights of the children concerned, and significantly reduce the number of children deprived of liberty through effective non-custodial alternatives, guided by the international human rights framework.

Chapter 12 of the report focuses on children deprived of liberty in institutions, including sub-sections on the right of the child to grow up in a family environment, the best interests of the child, provision of alternative care, the rights of children in alternative care, unregistered institutions, experiences of children in institutions, the impacts of institutionalization, family and community-based initiatives, deinstitutionalization and system-wide reforms, and more.

Read the UNGA report here.

The interactive Global Study will be launched on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2019.