A global study on children deprived of liberty found that there are at least 410,000 children held in detention every year in remand centres and prisons, and this does not include an estimated 1 million children held every year in police custody.
Many children are charged with ‘status offences’ that are not criminal offences for adults, including truancy, disobedience and drinking alcohol. Often, children in detention are pre-trial detainees held for long periods before their case is heard. In many criminal justice systems, children are treated the same as adults. In judicial processes designed for adults, a fair trial is impossible. International standards clearly outline that detaining a child should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible, yet, children are often given long custodial sentences.
Imprisonment of children can isolate them from their families and communities and carry great stigma. It also carries risk of torture and physical or emotional abuse. Violence continues to be endemic at all stages of deprivation of liberty in the administration of justice, including sexual violence against boys and girls.
We advocate and guide actors to implement child-friendly justice systems that seek to promote the well-being of the child and react proportionally to the alleged offence. These consider a child’s individual characteristics and focus on lasting rehabilitation, using detention only as a last resort. Given the substantial and often irreversible effects of imprisonment, child-friendly justice systems are in the interest of both children in contact with the law and society at large.