October 2019

QUNO welcomes the launch of UN Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty

The Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents, which QUNO co-convenes, welcomes the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty. We particularly welcome the Study’s detailed discussion on the rights of children living in prison with a parent, and the research which has been undertaken on this crucial subject.

Laurel Townhead, Human Rights and Refugees Representative for the Quaker United Nations Office and co-convenor of the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Children of Incarcerated Parents said:

After more than a decade working on the rights of children incarcerated parents, we welcome the conclusions and recommendations made in the Study on the issue of children living in prison with a parent. We are pleased to see the recognition of the fundamental importance of treating these children as rights-holders and ensuring that their best interests are a key consideration in decision-making.

The Study has made significant inroads in terms of reliable data collection concerning children deprived of liberty, both quantitative and qualitative. The emphasis on non-custodial responses is a very welcome endorsement of the relevance of a child’s rights when sentencing their parent. The Study recommends:

When a primary caregiver of a young child is convicted of a criminal offence, judges should prioritize non-custodial solutions.

We regret that the Study’s scope was too general to articulate the fact that many detained children are also parents and thus have a unique set of experiences and needs which must be considered. Similarly, the study does not mention the fact that children living in institutions may also have a parent in prison, a situation which again deserves particular attention and approaches. Follow up and further work should take account of the impact that race, ethnicity and membership of other minority groups has on experience of the criminal justice system and incarceration.

We would also like to draw attention to the existence of the many children of incarcerated parents who do not live with them in prison. While we recognise that these children fall outside of the Study’s remit, they remain profoundly linked to this discussion, particularly as some of these older children have experience of living in prison in their infancy. The Council of Europe’s recommendation on children with imprisoned parents provides a useful set of guidelines for States on a rights-based approach to these children.[1]

The presentation of the Global Study is a considerable milestone in the understanding of the scale of children deprived of liberty and trends in the data. The Study can also be thought of as the first step in improving more consistent, reliable data collection and working towards implementation of the Global Study recommendations, an area in which Civil Society has a key role to play.


[1] Council of Europe, Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States concerning children with imprisoned parents, 4 April 2018. https://rm.coe.int/cm-recommendation-2018-5-concerning-children-with-imp....

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