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GLOBAL: Salesian missionaries highlight work with youth in prisons and institutions in response to UN report “Global study on children deprived of liberty”

(MissionNewswire) Salesians missionaries in countries around the globe are aware of the plight of children and older youth in prison, often for minor offenses, or held in institutions where their rights are violated. Many Salesian programs bring hope, education and support to these youth who are often forgotten by the outside world.

For the first time in history, the United Nations has published a report, the “Global study on children deprived of liberty,” which highlights this global problem. Research for the report looked at best practices in non-custodial solutions applied by states in relation to the following six situations: detention of children in the administration of justice; children living in prisons with their primary caregivers; migration-related detention; deprivation of liberty in institutions; detention in the context of armed conflict; and on national security grounds.

The report notes that at least 410,000 children are held in detention every year in remand centers and prisons, which does not include an estimated 1 million children held every year in police custody. In addition, the report indicates that in 2018, between 3.5 and 5.5 million were removed from family care and placed in institutions. Data gathered for the report indicates that at least 430,000-680,000 children living in institutions are deprived of liberty

Further, 35,000 children are deprived of liberty due to armed conflict. This figure, as highlighted in the report, includes an estimated 29,000 foreign children of alleged ISIS fighters detained in 2019 in camps in Iraq and the northeast of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The report notes: “Children deprived of liberty remain an invisible and forgotten group in society notwithstanding the increasing evidence of these children being in fact victims of further human rights violations. Countless children are placed in inhumane conditions and in adult facilities—in clear violation of their human rights—where they are at high risk of violence, rape and sexual assault, including acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

As indicated in the report, children are being detained at a younger age and held for longer periods of time than ever before. This comes at a great personal cost to these children and is “immeasurable in terms of the destructive impact on their physical and mental development, and on their ability to lead healthy and constructive lives in society.”

The main author of the report is the Austrian human rights expert Professor Manfred Nowak. During the presentation of the global study at a press conference in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 20, he said, “Every child behind bars is one too many. The study found psychiatric disorders for children in detention can increase tenfold during detention, and detention is correlated with early death among children once released.”

The goal for the study and report was to awareness of the issue and encourage better respect and protection of children’s rights while drastically reducing the number of those who are deprived of their liberty in correctional institutions, prisons, centers for refugees through the adoption of all other alternative measures. In addition, better cooperation is needed among systems to help ensure the rights of children are upheld.

Reinhard Heiserer, director of Jugend Eine Welt Don Bosco Aktion Austria, welcomed the study as an extremely helpful tool to convince responsible authorities that detention of children should only be permitted in truly exceptional situations as a measure of last resort and that these children need much more attention and care.

He said, “Don Bosco himself cared a lot about boys in jail. There are many stories that document his special focus on this vulnerable group of young people.”

During the research phase of the study, Jugend Eine Welt had invited several project partners to fill out a questionnaire related to street children in detention. Among them was Father Jorge Crisafulli, director of Don Bosco Fambul, which is located in Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown and is one of the country’s leading child-welfare organizations. Don Bosco Fambul has been actively providing services to young prisoners incarcerated at the Pademba Road Prison.

Salesian missionaries provide food and water for young inmates while also offering counseling services, medical assistance and therapy to ensure inmates are mentally fit when their prison terms end. Through their prison program, missionaries reach 250 inmates.

Salesian missionaries also provide legal services to youth who have committed minor offenses or have been unlawfully imprisoned in Pademba. The goal is to seek their immediate release and/or a referral to a remand home or to an approved school.



Photo: © Terre des Hommes (used in the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty)

ANS – Austria – “Every child behind bars is one too many”

Salesian Missions – Sierra Leone

SIERRA LEONE: Don Bosco Fambul provides critical support and intervention services for inmates at Pademba Road Prison

United Nations – Children Deprived of Liberty – The United Nations Global Study

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