Since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, more than 45,000 children have been freed from detention and safely returned to family or an acceptable alternative, according to UNICEF’s latest reports.
The reports “Detention of children during COVID” and “Estimating the number of children deprived of their liberty in the administration of justice” were released on Sunday.
According to the first analysis, thousands of children have been released by governments and detention authorities in at least 84 countries since UNICEF raised awareness of their increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in confined and overcrowded spaces in April 2020, and called for their immediate release.
“We have long known that justice systems are ill-equipped to handle the specific needs of children – a situation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, was quoted as saying in a statement.
“We commend countries which heeded our call and released children from detention. By protecting children from conditions that could have exposed them to grave illness, these countries were able to overcome public resistance and spur innovative, age-appropriate justice solutions.
“This has proved something we already knew – child-friendly justice solutions are more than possible.”
The report is one of two UNICEF evaluations that depict the situation for hundreds of thousands of children who are robbed of their liberty each year.
Both reports were released in ahead of the World Congress on Justice with Children.
Children in detention, whether in pre-trial or post-trial custody, immigration detention, incarceration related to armed conflict or national security, or living with parents in detention, are frequently held in cramped and overcrowded conditions.
“They lack adequate access to nutrition, healthcare and hygiene services, and are vulnerable to neglect, physical and psychological abuse, and gender-based violence,” the statement said. “Many are denied access to lawyers and family care, and unable to challenge the legality of their detention.
“COVID-19 has profoundly affected justice for children, shuttering courts and restricting access to essential social and justice services. Evidence shows that many children, including children in street situations, have been detained for violating pandemic curfew orders and movement restrictions.”