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  • Children Do Not Belong in Detention!

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    International Detention Coalition launches global report and campaign at UN Human Rights Council: calls on states to end immigration detention of children

    Geneva, 21 March 2012—Every day, in countries around the world, thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied minors, are deprived of their freedom and are locked up simply because they do not hold the right documents. In the United States alone, over 9,000 such children were taken into custody in 2010.

    “Children are often fleeing abuse, poverty or war when they are detained,” said Michelle Brané, Director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “This growing practice by governments has a devastating effect on the physical, emotional and psychological development of children and should be stopped.”

    Today, at the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Detention Coalition (IDC) released a new report, Captured Childhood, and launched a campaign calling for an end to immigrant child detention.

    Captured Childhood is based on interviews with children in eleven countries and draws on international law to demand an end to child detention. The report presents a model to prevent child detention that builds on good practices identified by the IDC, the global coalition that founded the campaign. Detention, even for a very short time, can cause long-lasting damage and is unnecessary in the case of children and families. The campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children calls on States to treat migrant children first and foremost as children and to stop detaining them. The liberty of the child is a fundamental human right.

    Human rights and refugee rights groups from around the world came together in 2006 to build this campaign and engage with their governments on alternatives to immigration detention for children. With the support of the Princess Diana Memorial Fund, today this becomes a global, public campaign. More than 50 organizations have formally endorsed the campaign.

    The campaign will put an extra focus on seven countries of concern this year: Australia, Greece, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa and the United States.

     “Governments should not detain children just because they are fleeing abuse, war and poverty or don`t have any papers,” said Jeroen Van Hove, Campaign Coordinator. “Many of these kids are unaccompanied minors who have lost their parents or are already traumatized and just want to study and work in safety.” 

    While great strides have been made toward reducing the use of detention of these children in the United States, many continue to be held in facilities that are restrictive and detrimental to children’s health and well-being. In 2008, with passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), Congress recognized first that children should be released from custody if they have parents available to care for them and second, that unaccompanied children should be cared for by child welfare authorities and not law enforcement agents. Since then, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has cared for over 8,000 unaccompanied children on a yearly basis.

    Keeping in line with a child welfare focus, ORR has developed community-based programs such as foster homes and group homes. While the Women’s Refugee Commission commends the U.S. government’s global leadership in this regard, the U.S. is listed as a country of concern because it continues to over-utilize confinement facilities. Children remain in ORR detention facilities for extensive periods, many for as long as a year or more.

    The Women’s Refugee Committee has interviewed hundreds of children in U.S. immigration detention over the past decade. A boy name Morris, whom the WRC met during a visit to a secure facility, stated, “I am frustrated from being locked up for almost a year. I really can’t stand being locked up anymore. I don’t need therapy. I need to go home. I haven’t spoken to my mother.”

    “The United States has a real opportunity to be leaders in the reform of immigration detention of children,” said Brané. It’s time for a child welfare focus to be fully implemented.”

    The U.S. must ensure due process by providing legal representation for all unaccompanied children, improve conditions and policies at the borders, end the practice of issuing an immigration hold for detention (detainers) on children and end the use of secure and other physically restrictive facilities.

    Members of the general public can sign a global petition calling for an end to immigration detention of children. The petition will be presented to the Human Rights Council at the March 2013 session. Those under 18 can record a video message of support and post it on the YouTube channel: Speak up behind bars. 

    An eight-year-old girl from Australia said in her YouTube message: “If I was in detention I would miss my mum and dad. I want to say to those children in detention, I hope that they get out soon.” Watch the video here. Any child can submit a message on www.endchilddetention.org with his or her parent’s consent.

    For further information, contact Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission at +1- 646-717-7191 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    View the campaign website at www.endchilddetention.org.