Chapter 9 – Detention
To ensure that all children apprehended and/or temporarily detained in accordance with mission-specific military rules of engagement are treated in a manner consistent with international norms and standards, as well as the special status, needs, and rights of children and to ensure that detention is used as a measure of last resort, for the shortest possible period of time, and with the best interests of the child as a primary consideration, and that they are handed over expeditiously to child protection actors and civilian authorities in line with the established policies and guidance.
Why is this principle important?
As indicated in chapter 7 (Protection and Care), international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) outline specific protections and safeguards for children affected by armed conflict. Consequently, there are established laws regarding the detention, transfer, and release of children.Endnote 87
Specifically, children should only be detained as a last resort and in accordance with the standards and norms of international law in relation to the deprivation of liberty of children.Endnote 88 Furthermore, children associated with armed forces and armed groups should be treated primarily as victims of violations of international law.Endnote 89
National detention policy, doctrine, orders, directives, and mission plans should therefore contain specific provisions related to the special protections required by law concerning the detention and release of children.
If detention, transfer, and release are not handled in accordance with the standards and norms of applicable international law, as well as UN policy and guidance,Endnote 90 peacekeepers risk undermining their own credibility, reducing their operational effectiveness, and compromising the strategic objectives of the mission. They may also inadvertently perpetuate the cycle of child victimization, and of conflict itself.
How can this principle be implemented?
In accordance with international law, identify strict conditions for how children should be detained, with particular attention to gender considerations: Relevant national policy, doctrine, orders, directives, and mission plans must identify the strict conditions under which the detention of a child would be considered, in accordance with the established standards and norms of international law.Endnote 91 Some examples of the strict conditions articulated in applicable laws and policies include:
- No child shall be unlawfully or arbitrarily deprived of their liberty;Endnote 92
- All children must be treated humanely;Endnote 93
- No child shall be tortured;Endnote 94
- Detention shall not be used as a means of punishment;Endnote 95
- The detention of a child shall be in conformity with the law, shall be used only as a measure of last resort, and for the shortest appropriate period of time;Endnote 96
- Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault;Endnote 97
- The needs of children shall be considered according to their age;Endnote 98
- Children shall be held in quarters separate from the quarters of adults, except where families are accommodated as family units;Endnote 99
- Children should have the right to maintain contact with their family through correspondence and visits, except in exceptional circumstances;Endnote 100
- Children must receive medical care, food, and other treatment appropriate for their gender and age; and,Endnote 101
- States are encouraged to allow access by civilian child protection actors to children deprived of liberty for association with armed forces and armed groups.Endnote 102
Establish clear procedures for peacekeepers regarding the requirement to transfer children to the appropriate child protection actor as soon as practicable: Further to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that children should be detained for the “shortest appropriate period of time,” UNSCR 2427 stresses the need to establish standard operating procedures for the rapid handover of children to relevant civilian child protection actors.Endnote 103 Transfers should seek to protect children from further exploitation by armed forces or armed groups. Children should not be transferred if there exists tangible risk that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, or other forms of mistreatment at the hands of the authorities to whom that person is transferred. National contingents should consult the mission’s Child Protection Advisors (CPAs) on safe and appropriate receiving authorities, and other considerations relevant to the transfer of children, as appropriate.
Provide specific training and education for peacekeepers on the detention and transfer of child soldiers, including scenario-based exercises, activities, and resources: Member States should ensure that peacekeepers are properly educated and trained to manage detention scenarios, including those involving children, which may occur during international deployments. This includes ensuring that they fully understand their legal responsibilities.
Examples and resources
- Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949Endnote 104
- Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I)Endnote 105
- Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II)Endnote 106
- The Convention on the Rights of the ChildEndnote 107
- The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed ConflictEndnote 108
- UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their LibertyEndnote 109
- Guiding Principles for the Domestic Implementation of a Comprehensive System of Protection for Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed GroupsEndnote 110
To implement this principle, Member States should undertake the following:
- In accordance with international law, identify strict conditions for how children should be detained, with particular attention to gender considerations.
- Establish clear procedures for peacekeepers regarding the requirement to transfer children to the appropriate child protection actors as soon as practicable.
- Provide specific training and education for peacekeepers on the detention and transfer of child soldiers, including scenario-based exercises, activities, and resources.
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