More than seven million children are deprived of liberty worldwide. This is according to the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty that was launched on Monday 9 December 2019. 

The sub-regional launch of the Global Study study took place at the Future Africa Campus of the University of Pretoria (UP) on Monday and was hosted by the University’s Centre for Human Rights in collaboration with the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the Global Campus of Human Rights. The aim of the launch was for Southern African states to reflect on ways in which they can take on board and provide national measures to give effect to the recommendations in the Global Study. 

Download the UN Global Study

Former Constitutional Court judge Justice Albie Sachs gave the keynote address, while DIRCO Deputy Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini took the opportunity to re-iterate the South African government’s support for the study. 

Justice Sachs said one of the major achievements of democratic South Africa is that the constitution allows us to all express ourselves as we need to, including allowing children to just be children. 

“The rights of a child is a constitutional matter, it is not about custody but their wellbeing. We must, therefore, protect the right of a child to be a child,” he said. 

Deputy Minister Mashego-Dlamini said it is important for serious consideration to be made of the recommendations given by this study in order to improve the laws and policies of states especially when it comes to children. 

“Similar to the two previous Global Studies on children, namely the Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children led by the Former First Lady, Graça Machel, and the Study on Violence against Children, led by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, this Global Study cannot be relegated to the archives of academic study. Instead, consideration needs to be given as to how each state can implement the recommendations in the Study and raise awareness, or promote a change in stigmatizing attitudes and behaviour towards children who are deprived of their liberty. 

“Similar to the consultative approach that was used in South Africa to develop the Child Justice Act, so too this third UN Global Study was carried out in close cooperation with Governments, UN agencies, Special Representatives of the Secretary-General, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as well as civil society organisations and academia. We are therefore certain that this collaborative approach with all relevant stakeholders, many of whom are present in this room today, is the only manner in which we can all effectively address the phenomenon of children deprived of their liberty in our region,” she said. 

The Deputy Minister added that the Oceania region held a successful launch of the study in October 2019, and other launches will take place in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South America, South East Asia, East and North African regions in order to create enabling environments where best practices and information can be shared. 

The study was lead by the United Nations Independent Expert on Children Deprived of Liberty, Prof Manfred Nowak, with the Global Study Advisory Board that is chaired by UP’s Prof Ann Skelton. It was conducted over a period of three years. Participating states were given a questionnaire to complete, which is how the study sourced most of its data. It also included the perspectives of children who have been deprived of their liberty.

The study also found that 94% of all children deprived of liberty are boys, while only 6% are girls. It also confirmed that in the instance of detained primary caregivers who are allowed to keep their infants and young children, almost 100% of these are mothers. 

The study considered the deprivation of liberty as: 

Children deprived of liberty through the administration of justice, children living in prisons with their primary caregivers, children deprived of liberty for migration-related reasons, children deprived of liberty in institutions, children deprived of liberty in the context of armed conflicts and children deprived of liberty on security grounds.

Some of the study’s overarching recommendations include: 

  • That states reduce significantly the number of children held in places of detention and to prevent deprivation of liberty before it occurs and;
  • States are urged to develop national action plans with clear targets and benchmarks indicating how to reduce progressively and significantly the number of children in various situations of depravation of liberty and how to replace detention of children by non-custodial solutions. 

The launch of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty was part of a number of events recently hosted by the Centre for Human Rights, celebrating 20 years of the existence of its Master’s programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa. 

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