Close to 11 million detainees including hundreds of thousands of children worldwide may be strongly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, detention facilities for children in particular do not meet the minimum requirements set forth in international and regional legal instruments. The lack of adequate healthcare services in these facilities can lead to the spread of the coronavirus disease, putting at severe risk not only detainees but also the staff, the families and communities. Therefore, the vulnerability of detention facilities to an outbreak of COVID-19 must be of grave concern to all countries and become an integral part of a national response to COVID-19.
PUBLIC HEALTH - Within detention facilities, COVID-19 prevention and control measures alone may prove insufficient due to several factors - overcrowding; increased vulnerability, including gender-based violence; illness, leading to staff reduction below acceptable levels for care and protection; increased number of detainees especially children deprived of liberty or those unable to be released due to closures of courts, suspension of trials, etc. - that equally undermine infection control measures and thus significantly increase the risk for infection, amplification and spread of COVID-19. Children, who are already more vulnerable because of the confined conditions, are also more likely to have compromised access to information about the outbreak, including much needed information about how to protect themselves, identify symptoms and seek treatment. Therefore, evidence-based COVID-19 prevention and control measures in detention facilities for children are urgently needed and should be implemented in full compliance with human rights and international standards and norms for justice for children and child protection.
UNODC’S POSITIONING AS PART OF THE OVERALL COVID-19 RESPONSE - UNODC has the mandate to support countries in preventing crime and violence and in strengthening justice systems. In particular, the work of UNODC to ensure that children – defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child as all persons under the age of eighteen – are better served and protected by justice systems, has been implemented since 2015 through its Global Programme to End Violence against Children (Global Programme to END VAC). In April 2020, UNODC took part in an inter-agency process and contributed to the development of an Inter-Agency Technical Guidance on COVID-19 and Children Deprived of Liberty. The interagency group is composed of UN entities and CSOs and is a joint effort with the Alliance on Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. It was in response to the recent guidance issued by UNICEF and the Alliance on COVID-19 and Child Protection, and the identified need of States for more specific guidance in relation to children deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 outbreak.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC - The Inter-Agency Technical Guidance is aimed to provide States with recommendations on how to ensure the well-being of children in detention during the COVID-19 pandemic and how to support children victims and witnesses and/or the role of the justice system in prevention of VAC (Violence Against Children). In addition to this Guidance, UNODC, through its Global Programme to END VAC, offers a number of Technical Assistance Services to support Member States, upon request, in better protecting the rights of children in detention during the COVID-19 outbreak. In this context, the Global Programme’s action-oriented guidance is based on three key services:
1. Support to strategic planning to the public sector (Decongest juvenile detention facilities, Combat the COVID-19 outbreak within locations, Minimize risks of violence, exploitation and abuse).
2. Institutions and capacity building (Improve conditions of detention, Support the provision of legal aid and legal representation programmes, Enhance the probation services or other supervision/monitoring systems of non-custodial sanctions and measures, Support and strengthen independent inspection bodies, Support technology solutions that uphold children’s rights, Enhance national and local professional capacities to comply with international human rights standards).
3. Information, advocacy and awareness raising (Develop communication strategies, public information and education programmes to raise awareness about the protection of children deprived of liberty during the COVID-19 outbreak).
The vast majority of children deprived of liberty will eventually return to their communities. Thus, the failure to address protection and care needs for children could lead to a rapid increase in the transmission of COVID-19 within detention facilities, while compromising the safety and health of the general public. In the interest of public health protection, States should plan coordinated approaches to accommodate protection needs within detention facilities for children when devising and implementing their national response plans to ensure the recovery of the whole community.
Terrorism is a global threat that disproportionately affects children. On 3 - March 2020 high-level representatives from Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives and the Philippines gathered in Bali in an event co-organised by Japan, Indonesia and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reached political consensus on the urgency to tackle child recruitment and its consequences on children’s lives.
Opening the Event, the representative from Japan presented the value of the UNODC Roadmap for the guidance it contains on how to prevent child involvement with terrorist groups and how to rehabilitate and reintegrate these children. He pledged Japan’s continued support to countries for the implementation of the Roadmap.
In her remarks, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ms. Bensouda, stated: “I applaud the UNODC Roadmap, which recognizes the need to work together and highlights areas closely linked to the mandate of my Office and of the Court, such as prevention and justice.” She also stressed the need to hold perpetrators of serious crimes against children accountable.
Building on its dual mandate on violence against children (VAC) and counter-terrorism, UNODC has been assisting countries facing these challenges for the past five years. Alexandra Martins, the coordinator of the UNODC Global Programme to End VAC, expressed how "children associated with terrorist groups are to be considered and treated primarily as victims”, highlighting that “investing on their rehabilitation and reintegration is not an alternative to security, but a pre-requirement because there is no dichotomy between preserving public safety and protecting children”.
During the event, participants discussed key areas of intervention, and benefitted from the contribution of a psychosocial expert from the ICC. She emphasized the importance of medical, social and psychological support adapted to the circumstances and needs of these children, providing technical advice on how to integrate such support in their treatment.
High-level discussions led to the identification of priority actions at national level. Representatives from Malaysia stressed education and awareness-raising as key components of any effective prevention strategy to protect children from recruitment. The Filipino delegation highlighted the need to ensure that children in situation of armed conflict are treated according to international law, as also reflected in the Key Principles of the Roadmap. One of the areas on intervention identified by the Government was the need to equip frontline officers with child-sensitive training and child-friendly communication skills.
The government of Indonesia illustrated current efforts towards the rehabilitation and reintegration of children affected by terrorism. As a result of the Event, Indonesia took a step ahead and officially launched the “Bali Call for Action”, a political declaration which endorses the UNODC Roadmap and commits to translate it into action at national level. With this initiative, Indonesia also called upon Member States to join this historical declaration as a unique opportunity to adopt a common approach to protect children from terrorism.
Finally, the delegation from the Maldives endorsed the “Bali Call for Action”, underlining how these political commitments will be instrumental to addressing the situation of children affected by the Foreign Terrorist Fighters phenomenon. As a result of these advances, the Maldivian government requested UNODC’s assistance to become the first pilot country in the world to implement the UNODC Roadmap.
UNODC Executive Director signed the 'Leaders call for action to protect children from violence and abuse during COVID-19' Global Partnership to End VAC.
During the Bali Event co-organised by Japan, Indonesia and UNODC reached political consensus : the “Bali Call for Action”.All Press Releases
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UNODC Roadmap on the Treatment of Children Associated with Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups highlighted at the COTER Meeting, European Council
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