(New York) – Thousands of children in conflict-affected countries have been detained without charge for months or even years as national security threats, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Untold numbers have been tortured or have died in custody. Governments should immediately stop detaining children without charge and appropriately punish those who mistreat them.
The 35-page report, “Extreme Measures: Abuses against Children Detained as National Security Threats,” documents the arrest and detention of children for alleged association with non-state armed groups or involvement in conflict-related offenses. Overbroad and vague counterterrorism legislation adopted in response to extremist armed groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram has increased the detention of children perceived to be security threats. Human Rights Watch specifically examined the detention and treatment of children in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, and Syria.
The report is based on Human Rights Watch interviews with scores of former detainees, including children, in the six countries; on United Nations reports; and other secondary sources.
In his most recent annual report on children and armed conflict, which will be debated by the UN Security Council on August 2, 2016, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged UN member countries to urgently put in place alternatives to detention and prosecution for children who have been associated with armed groups or who have engaged in violent extremism.
Governments should immediately end all use of detention without charge for children, and transfer children associated with armed groups to child protection authorities for rehabilitation. In cases in which children are charged with a valid criminal offense, they should be treated in accordance with international juvenile justice standards, which emphasize alternatives to detention, and prioritize the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the child.
“The alienation felt by children drawn to militant groups will only be compounded by torture and other abuse suffered at the hands of the authorities,” Becker said. “Detaining children is the wrong way to deter them from involvement in future violence.”