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Facts for Life

Child protection

Supporting Information


Justice for children should be based on child rights. Depriving children of their liberty (incarcerating them) must always be a last resort. Procedures that are sensitive to children should be put in place for children who are victims or witnesses of crime.

Placing children who have committed crimes or have been accused of committing crimes in a detention centre, prison or reform school or any other closed setting should always be a last resort. Detention can be detrimental to children's development and make reintegration into society more difficult.

Alternatives such as mediation, community service and counselling produce better results for children and their families and communities. Such alternatives are generally more respectful of children's rights and help children learn how to take on a more constructive role in society. This should be the objective of all justice interventions concerning children.

The majority of children in detention have not committed a serious offence. They are often detained for dropping out of school, running away from home, using alcohol, begging or vagrancy. Some children are in detention because they have been exploited by adults through prostitution or drug dealing.

Children can remain in detention for months or years awaiting review of their case. These children are at higher risk of violence and exposure to drugs, HIV infection and other health problems. Detention can interrupt their schooling and distance them from family. Children in detention generally need a social protection response, not a judicial one.

Children who are in detention should:

  • be separated from adult offenders
  • have their cases addressed within a short time frame
  • be separated by gender
  • have appropriate means to report violence committed against them while in detention.

Pregnant women and mothers with children in detention need special protection, care and support. All children in these circumstances are entitled to protection of their rights, such as access to health care and education.

Child-sensitive procedures for boys and girls should be put in place for child victims and witnesses of crime. Such procedures should:

  • prevent contact between the child and the alleged perpetrator (the person who is accused of committing the crime)
  • allow for the child's full participation in the justice process
  • ensure that the child is treated with dignity and compassion.