Human Rights Watch released "Extreme measures, abuses against children detained as National Security threats" a report exposing the conditions suffered by children in the world today due to the rise of extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram.
Legislation in the recent years has allowed authorities a greater scope to detain individuals, unfortunately children are not the exception. Laws include preventive and indefinite detention and allows military courts to determine their future.
International law recognizes the recruitment of anyone under 18 by armed groups as a violation of children's rights. Despite this, children are also seen as fighters and militants which cause state security forces to detain them under the reason of national security or just because they are perceived as threats.
Since 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed his concern over the detention of children and reported in 2014 this was usual in 17 from the 23 situations of armed conflict around the world, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Israel, Somalia and Syria.
Children are detained on the basis of groundless suspicion, sometimes in broad security sweeps, because of alleged terrorists activities by family members or due to flimsy evidence. Often they are denied the access to lawyers and family members and are subjected to torture and coercive interrogations, and some have even died in custody.
These are done to extract intelligence information or simply as punishment. Former child detainees, according to the report, were subject to beatings, electric shocks, forced nudity, rape and threats of execution.
Detention conditions are not adequate whatsoever. They frequently face inadequate food and medical care. They can be placed in overcrowded cells with unknown adults which increases the risk of physical and sexual violence.
The impact of detention on children are profound. They are denied the access to education, therefore leaving them behind others. Research shows juvenile detention is also related to lower rates of employment, higher suicide rates and higher re-arrest rates. They can also experience depression and despair. Also, the US Department of Justice and Delinquency Prevention states that are more likely to engage in future criminal activities.
The SG Ban Ki-Moon is also preoccupied by the alienation of these children and how they could seek retaliation by joining armed groups. Detention “is contrary not only to the best interests of the child, but also to the interests of society as a whole.”
Detainees should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards meaning they should emphasize on alternatives to detention and prioritize their rehabilitation and social reintegration. The Convention on the Rights of Children actually states that regardless the circumstances detention should be used only as a last resort and for the shortest period of time.
More so, even if the UN has achieved the release of children or negotiated their transfer from detention center to child protection agencies, detention remains the norm.
HRW cited cases in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, Syria and during US operations in the Middle East.
They conclude governments should end all use of detention without charge for children, ensure the ones associated with armed groups to be transferred to child protection agencies and rehabilitation.
Also they ask for the release of all children detained under the national security pledge, comply to arrest children only as a last resort and treat them in accordance to international juvenile justice standards.
At last they recommend governments to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment against children and prosecute those responsible, allow independent humanitarian agencies to have unrestricted access to children and develop protocols for rehabilitation and reintegration.