How many children are in immigration detention, right now?

One child in immigration detention is one child too many is what we say here at the campaign.

But exactly how many children are actually impacted by immigration detention?

Unfortunately, there are no exact figures to show how many children are detained worldwide. Many governments do not keep or release data about child detention, and the figures can change quickly.

At the Campaign, we say that millions of children are affected by immigration detention.

That figure is supported by over 20 prominent UN, regional, intergovernmental, and civil society organisations who are in the Inter-Agency Working Group to End Immigration Detention of Children.

Here’s how we get to that number.

Let’s take 2015 as an example year. Here’s a list of published, verified statistics we had available:

Country Number of children in detention
Canada 117
Hungary 255
Indonesia 838
Kenya 20
Lithuania 5
Malaysia 912
Malta 11
Mexico 35,704
Slovakia 319
United Kingdom 128
United States 103,140
Zambia 18
Total for a single year (2015) 145,472


So that is documented evidence from twelve countries that hundreds of thousands of children are being detained. Bear in mind that 12 countries are only a few compared to the total number of countries in the world.

Additionally, millions of children are impacted by the detention of a parent or family member.

So, how many people are estimated to be in immigration detention each year?

Once again, these statistics are hard to find. The UNHCR Baseline report said more than 600,000 people were detained in 2013 in their 12 focus countries. The Journal on Migration and Human Security published an article in 2013 on Global Trends in Immigration Detention and Alternatives to Detention – it outlined data that the number of people who could be detained on any one day was over 100,000 documented places in 14 countries. Even on a conservative estimate that the average period of detention is 30 days, this means that more than 1 million people are detained on an annual basis.

Bear in mind, again, that the number of countries we have data on are very few. Also bear in mind that we are increasingly seeing policies of immigration detention being used worldwide, so it is reasonable to expect that this figure has increased significantly in recent years.

Based on these figures, we have estimated that millions children have been impacted by immigration detention worldwide.

The effects of immigration detention last a lifetime.

We are sure it’s a conservative estimate, given that we work with hundreds of organisations from over 40 countries worldwide who all have some version through which children are detained.

We are part of a call for comprehensive statistics to be released via the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, and we truely hope that in the future more States release data on immigration detention.