On 18th December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution inviting the Secretary-General to commission an in-depth Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

The Global Study is only a first step to draw the attention of States and the international community to a phenomenon that has largely been ignored in the past: that millions of children of all ages are suffering in many different types of detention in violation of international law, and that we are depriving these children of their childhood and of their future. Depriving children of liberty means to expose them to a form of structural violence, while States have committed themselves in the Agenda 2030 to end all forms of violence against children. This Global Study will hopefully contribute to the ultimate goal of the Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind and, in particular, to leave no child behind bars. 

The Global Study was a true joint effort between Governments, United Nations agencies and bodies, other international and regional organisations, civil society organisations, the academic community and children with the aim to address the information gap and justifications by States to detain children, be it in principle and in practice, as well as to identify non-custodial solutions preventing deprivation of liberty and protecting children. 

Children deprived of liberty have diverse backgrounds and identities but also face similar situations and experiences. In order to better understand the commonalities and differences throughout all situations of deprivation of children, the Global Study was informed not only through desk-based research but also through primary data collection, thematic, national and regional consultations, expert meetings and direct consultations with children across all world regions.

Core objectives of the Global Study

1. Assess the magnitude of the phenomenon of children being deprived of liberty, in six different situations, including in institutions, migration related reasons and in the context of the administration of criminal justice, as well as the number of children deprived of liberty (disaggregated by age, gender and nationality), comprehend the root causes and pathways leading to deprivation of liberty.

2. Address the conditions of detention, taking into account the personal views and experiences of children, and assess possible justifications for and limits of deprivation of liberty of children in light of all relevant provisions of international law, above all the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

3. Document promising practices of non-custodial solutions and capture the view and experiences of children to inform the recommendations that the Global Study will present.

4. Promote a change in stigmatising attitudes and behaviour towards children at risk of being, or who are, deprived of liberty.

5. 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.

The main message of the Global Study is to urge States to:

  • better respect and protect the rights of children by drastically reducing the number of children deprived of liberty; 
  • give higher recognition to the value of the family as the fundamental group unit of society and, accordingly, invest much more resources in supporting families for their role as primary caregivers for children; 
  • adopt a systemic approach to strengthen child justice and child welfare systems and encourage inter-agency cooperation between different stakeholders.