in Europe

Children deprived of liberty and other children in situations of risk – the main focus of the Human Dimension Seminar


On 11-12 October 2017, Terre des hommes took part in the Human Dimension Seminar organized in Warsaw by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), in co-operation with the 2017 Austrian Chairmanship of the OSCE. The event brought together more than 100 representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society for an exchange of views and information regarding children in situations of risk, particularly in the context of deprivation of liberty and trafficking.

Terre des hommes was represented by Olivia Pirtac-Goaga, who gave a series of insights regarding priority issues faced by children in situations of risk, particularly those deprived of liberty.

Among the issues discussed were the over-use of detention, the poor (or non-) implementation of laws for child-friendly justice, and the fact that too many children are detained together with adults and in inhumane conditions. The detention of children is actually a factor that increases recidivism. Despite this, many children spend months and years in prison when they could be rehabilitated in their communities.

There is poor use of restorative justice procedures which seek to repair the damage caused to the individuals, the affected parties and wider society, and which require the active participation of the child offender, the victim and other involved actors in order to resolve the conflict.

Other serious violations of rights are related to the immigration detention of children in Europe: ever since the summer of 2015 when Europe witnessed the arrival of an increased number of persons in need of international protection, the response of European countries has gradually shifted from a rights-based approach to a security-focused approach. This has resulted in an increased number of children and families in need of international protection being detained on the basis of their immigration status. In contravention of basic instruments of international and European law, amongst which Art 24 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, European governments as well as regional organizations such as the EU have indicated their intention to use detention at once as a deterrent and as a migration management tool, both for asylum seekers and for applicants who received a negative decision to secure their deportation. In practice, and taking the example of Central European countries, restrictive practices and legislation are being implemented which, in the case of Hungary among others, result in the so-called "lawful" detention of unaccompanied minors who are above 14 years of age. This blatant violation of children's rights has long-term effects on children and their families. It is a source of great concern for civil society who has documented and will continue to denounce the practice of European States denying the rights of the most vulnerable and preventing them from living in dignity.

Tdh research also has shown serious disrespect of procedural rights at the European level, particularly for migrant children in contact with the justice system: the right to interpretation, the right to information and the right to legal advice.

In a more general context, one of the core challenges is that Justice for Children remains low on the list of priorities in the European agenda.

As regards the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, Terre des hommes, which is part of the NGO Core Panel, hopes some progress will be registered soon and reconfirms its will to involve and offer its expertise. Children deprived of liberty remain some of the most chronically under-studied populations of children and only fragmented data about the specific violations faced by children deprived of liberty is available.

In order to fulfill the promises of the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to ensure that no child is left behind. Terre des hommes will continue to promote the voices of children, ensuring that children are agents of positive change in creating a brighter future.