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UCC School of Law welcomes launch of UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

20 Nov 2019
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Wednesday 20th November is World Children's Day. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - the ground-breaking agreement that has helped to transform the lives of children around the world. Professor Ursula Kilkelly of the UCC School of Law was in Geneva this week for the launch of the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty. 

Commissioned by the UN, the Study is the world’s first comprehensive analysis of the subject of all forms of child detention – from institutional care to child justice, from children imprisoned with parents to migrant detention. Professor Kilkelly and other staff from the School of Law have contributed to this hugely important study for children's rights. 

The study was led by an independent expert appointed by the UN for this purpose – Professor Manfred Nowak – with the support of an Advisory Board chaired by Professor Ann Skelton of which Professor Ursula Kilkelly, of the School of Law, UCC was a member. The Study was a complex undertaking, made possible by a cross-cutting, active collaboration between civil society, academia, UN agencies and a small number of member states, the so-called Friends of the Global Study. Its publication marks an important moment in the international recognition of the rights of children in detention.

Key to the study and one of its innovative and original aspects was the consultation with children led by colleagues Queen’s University Belfast Centre for Children’s Rights and University College Cork Centre for Children’s Rights and Family Law, at the School of Law, together with the international NGO Terre des Hommes. The inter-institutional research team allowed us to combine expertise in child participation at QUB – led by Professor Laura Lundy with Dr Michele Templeton and Dr Siobhan McAllister – with expertise in youth detention at UCC led by Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Dr Louise Forde and Ms Deirdre Kelleher.

Rights-based participation

Using a rights-based participation methodology developed by Professor Laura Lundy, Terre des Hommes engaged national partners in 22 countries to facilitate the consultation with 274 children deprived of liberty about their experiences of their rights. Feeding back to the research team, this data was analysed to bring together the world’s first global and comprehensive study of children’s experiences of their rights in detention. The rights-based approach was augmented by working with an advisory group of young people in detention, who checked the methodology for accessibility and meaning and its consistent application was assured by the even application of the methodology across each detention setting internationally. The advisory group have also been involved in supporting the team to develop a child-friendly version of the Study.

The views, experiences and perspectives of young people now appear in the Global Study as their own dedicated chapter. In many ways, the views of the young people reflect the findings presented throughout the Study, and as such, they endorse the other evidence presented. Reporting experiences of detention that caused isolation, fear and anxiety, young people from around the world report the many breaches of their rights in detention. The testimony from the young people echoes and amplifies the findings set out in the secondary literature and as such they give the study important legitimacy. But the young person’s chapter offers much more than this – it gives an account of children’s rights in detention that is multi-dimensional and complex and one that, through the voices of young people themselves, contextualises their experiences of their rights. Alongside the accounts of where their rights are being breached, the young people also highlight the importance of their rights – to family, to education, to rehabilitation, to age appropriate, fair and dignified treatment. The importance of relationships – with family on the ‘outside’ as well as new friendships formed on the ‘inside’ - and the young people’s hopes for their future shine brightly. Out of exceptional adversity, comes hope and resilience. What emerges is a rich and complex picture of children’s rights, drawn with the authenticity and power of the lived experience.

Findings and recommendations

The Global Study was an ambitious collaborative work that has documented for the international community how the rights of children deprived of liberty are currently ignored, underplayed and violated. It highlights how this situation can be improved by member states in the identification of recommendations that are practical and clear. They draw attention to the need to better protect children’s rights from the earlier stage of their development - through investment in protection and prevention to alleviate the underlying factors that lead to detention. It highlights too the importance of resourcing community-based approaches that de-institutionalise and ensure that detention is genuinely a last resort. And it recommends greater investment in and focus on children’s rights approaches to detention when it is, in rare cases, an unavoidable measure. The significance of the Global Study lies in the fact that the international community can never again say it was ignorant of the children’s rights challenges associated with the protection of children deprived of their liberty. The Study’s recommendations provide a blueprint for states parties and government agencies, for researchers and students and for civil society organisations as to how to ensure that the rights of children deprived of liberty are fully protected now and in the future.

The Global Study has messages for Ireland and for our youth justice system. The new Youth Justice Strategy, in development, should take full account of its recommendations and embed them into our national law and policy. Central to this approach – in addition to detention as a measure of last resort - must be a commitment to ensure that decision-making at all stages of the justice process takes account not only of children’s rights and interests, but of their views.


Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty - report: 

Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty website: 

Children's voices (Terre des Hommes): 

School of Law

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