Children in detention

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in detention, because of their age and stage of maturity, and the long term damaging effects of detention on their well-being and development.

Deprivation of liberty for children (anyone under the age of 18) should be used only as a measure of last resort and a variety of alternative measures to deprivation of liberty should be available for children, to ensure their well-being. When detention is absolutely necessary, it should be used for the shortest appropriate period of time and should aim at rehabilitating and reintegrating children into society.

Detention rarely responds to children’s individual characteristics and specific needs, including the need for appropriate education, contact with family and the wider community, sport and recreation. Instead, it often intensifies children’s vulnerability to discrimination, abuse, violence, poor living conditions, inadequate health care and nutrition.

The majority of children deprived of their liberty are held in pre-trial detention, often for prolonged periods, and for minor offences, in breach with international standards.

Children deprived of their liberty are at greater risk of experiencing discrimination and abuse by both staff and fellow detainees, from the first moment of contact with the criminal justice system. When deprived of their liberty, they are also at risk of self-harm or even suicide.

Children deprived of their liberty do not form a homogeneous group and their needs and the risks they are exposed to vary according to different factors such as age, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity or level of development. Girls or children with physical or mental disabilities face the greatest risk of abuse and ill-treatment once they are detained.

APT resources

In June 2014, the APT organised the first Jean-Jacques Gautier NPM Symposium, on Children's vulnerabilities in detention. Download the Outcome Report.

See also our Detention Focus database, which includes guidance for detention monitors and standards related to children deprived of liberty.