Lusaka, Zambia – UN Refugee Agency calls on States to end the immigration detention of children on the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It’s 25 years since the international community adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a major treaty setting out the rights of all children. With its 194 accessions, the CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty of all time. Among its provisions, Article 22 requires States to provide special protection for refugee children. Yet thousands of children are being detained by immigration authorities worldwide, with damaging effects on their health and wellbeing. UNHCR calls for an end to this harmful practice and for an ethic of care, not enforcement, to guide all interactions with asylum-seeking and refugee children.
“Children who arrive in another country in search of international protection are extremely vulnerable and have specific needs. We should treat them first and foremost as children, not as illegal aliens”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Even if they are detained together with their families, “this detention has a devastating effect on the physical, emotional and psychological development of these children,” he said.
Recent studies have indicated that detained children frequently suffer from developmental delays and emotional problems, including insomnia, appetite loss and behavioral difficulties.
But as the number of people forcibly uprooted rises, so the detention of children for immigration related purposes remains all too common. Although it is difficult to obtain precise figures, UNHCR estimates that thousands of children are in detention for this reason worldwide every day.
In all too many countries, children may face months in detention, often together with adult strangers in substandard conditions.
“The practice of putting children in immigration detention is in violation of the CRC in many respects and it should be stopped,” he said.
As part of its Global Strategy – Beyond Detention, launched in Geneva in June this year, the UN Refugee Agency has made the detention of asylum-seeking children a corporate priority
On the 25th anniversary of the CRC, UNHCR renews its call to governments to end the detention of children and to explore child-appropriate alternative care arrangements, welcoming the steps taken by a number of governments to do so.
Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom have moved to release children from administrative detention, establishing specialized case-worker systems to follow up on their situation and family reunification procedures.
Belgium has created special facilities for unaccompanied and separated children, where their needs can be evaluated in a protective environment, while Hong Kong SAR has introduced “community housing” programmes to support the specific needs of children and their families who would otherwise be in immigration detention.
UNHCR is also working with governments to ensure child-appropriate asylum and family reunification procedures are in place.
Zambia has made good efforts towards development and enactment of various policies and legislation that protect the rights of children. However, there have been some challenges in implementation. This is mainly due to lack of facilities to keep children with their families because of insufficient funding available to the Government to offer safe homes to be used while solutions are being identified.
UNHCR’s Global Strategy – Beyond Detention 2014-19 can be accessed at: www.unhcr.org/detention.