The Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) to End Child Immigration Detention commends States’ efforts towards developing child-sensitive and human-rights based Global Compacts and highlights the need to ensure that the Global Compacts do not fall below minimum child rights standards and do not allow for the possibility of detaining children for immigration purposes. The IAWG emphasizes the potential of the Global Compacts as a multilateral multi-stakeholder process and calls on States to use this process to work together to ensure that in practice alternatives are always available to safeguard the rights, dignity and welfare of migrant children1 and their families, regardless of their status. The IAWG stands ready to further support States’ efforts through the implementation of the Global Compacts by offering guidance on alternatives to detention, engaging in national capacity-building, sharing positive practices, and tracking progress and achievements
There is simply no need for child immigration detention. There are alternatives which are not only child-sensitive but also more effective, more affordable, and, crucially, more humane
Ending Child Immigration Detention: Successful State practices
Protecting the rights of children is not at odds with effectively governing displacement and movements of people, but rather an essential element of it. There is simply no need for child immigration detention. There are alternatives which are not only child-sensitive but also more effective, more affordable, and, crucially, more humane. Research and practice shows that non-custodial, community-based alternatives, when implemented properly, facilitate cooperation with immigration and asylum procedures, allow States to save resources, and safeguard children and families from negative, physical, mental and long-term developmental impacts. Community-based housing and case management models, in particular, have demonstrated very high compliance rates. Non-custodial, community-based alternatives have been found to be significantly less costly than custodial detention models.2 Several States across different regions have legislated a prohibition on the immigration detention of children and families 3; implemented child-sensitive screening, referral, and protection systems to ensure that children are never detained; and/or systematized more comprehensive case management and community support programs for children and their families, allowing children to live freely in the community. The UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children provide particular guidance in this regard.4 These existing positive practices and successful scalable pilots should be promoted and expanded to develop child-sensitive migration systems.
“As a child at the time, I saw many things that no child should see…” Pinar Aksu, detained at 14 years old
Detention is not a child protection mechanism
Immigration detention is not a measure consistent with providing child protection. Even for short periods of time, detention is an extreme measure completely incompatible with the protection and well-being of children. Regardless of the conditions in which children are held, a number of studies have shown that detention has a profound and negative impact on children’s physical and psychological health and cognitive development which translates into immediate and long-lasting effects on children and families.5
Detention is never in a child’s best interests – not even as a last resort
All children are children first and foremost, regardless of their migration status, and deserve to be cared for and protected. Authoritative and practical guidance has been provided by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in two recent Joint General Comments, stating that:
- Immigration detention of children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, is never in the best interests of the child and is always a child rights violation;
- While the CRC allows for the possibility of detaining children as a measure of last resort in some contexts – such as criminal juvenile justice – the ‘last resort’ standard is not applicable in immigration proceedings;
- Immigration detention of children should be forbidden by law and such prohibition should be fully implemented in practice.
- Children should always be cared for in non-custodial community-based contexts together with their parents, guardians and family members in accordance with their best interests. 6
Similarly, both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) and the Council of Europe (CoE), have found that immigration detention is not consistent with a child’s best interests and, should never be used for children, not even as a last resort.7
“The Compacts should lay the groundwork to provide better child reception and protection systems…” Inter Agency Working Group to End Child Detention
The Global Compacts: an opportunity
The IAWG strongly encourages States to ensure that the Global Compacts do not allow for the possibility of detaining children, not even as a last resort nor for the shortest period of time. Instead the Compacts should lay the groundwork to provide better child reception and protection systems by implementing effective child-sensitive, non-custodial, community-based alternatives that prioritize the human rights and the best interests of the child as the essential key to operationalise States’ obligations under international human rights law. We encourage States to take the opportunity of the Global Compacts to develop regional or national action plans with time-bound milestones outlining how they intend to end the practice of child immigration detention in law, policy and practice.
- In this joint statement the references to migrant children also refer to asylum seeking and refugee children.
- International Detention Coalition, There are alternatives: A handbook for preventing unnecessary immigration detention, 2015, p 51-53, available at http://idcoalition.org/cap/handbook/.
- International Detention Coalition: Briefing Paper, Never in a Child’s Best Interests https://idcoalition.org/wpcontent/uploads/2017/06/Briefing-Paper_Never-in-a-childs-best-interests_June-2017.pdf.
- Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, A/RES/64/142, available at https://www.unicef.org/protection/alternative_care_Guidelines-English.pdf.
- The effects on children include depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, heightened rates of suicide, suicide attempts and self-harm, mental disorder, and developmental problems, including severe attachment disorder. Symptoms include insomnia, nightmares, mutism, eating difficulties and bed-wetting as well as emotional and behavioural problems. Furthermore, when detention separates children from their parents or caregivers, children often lose the support and protection of their parents, are forced to take on roles beyond their level of maturity and are denied their right to family unity. International Detention Coalition, Captured Childhood, 2012, available at https://idcoalition.org/publication/captured-childhood/.
- Joint General Comment No. 4 (2017) of the CMW and No. 23 (2017) of the CRC on State obligations regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration in countries of origin, transit, destination and return, 16 November 2017, available at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/TBSearch.aspx?Lang=en&TreatyID=7&DocTypeID=11.
- See, IAWG, Summary of Normative Standards and recommendations on ending child detention http://www.iawgendchilddetention.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/IAWG_Child-Detention-Standards_Aug2016_FINAL.pdf.
The Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) to End Child Immigration Detention is an international alliance comprised of over twenty prominent UN, inter-governmental, and civil society organizations committed to supporting and engaging States to end child immigration detention consistent with existing international human rights obligations to protect the best interests of the child and committed to engaging and supporting States to expeditiously and completely end the practice of child immigration detention, consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.