Every day around the world, millions of children are affected by immigration detention. Whether detained themselves or impacted by the detention of their parents or guardians, children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Children who are unaccompanied or separated from their parents or guardians are particularly at risk in places of immigration detention. They are minors, and are unable to advocate for their fundamental human rights alone.
Often these children are seeking asylum, family reunification or fleeing from violence and poverty. Migration around the world is at historic highs. Increasingly more women and children are migrating seeking safety and security. Children take enormous risk when leaving their homes, they are at risk of exploitation and trafficking. This risk is heightened when they are alone.
Some countries separate the children from their families, placing them in childcare centres, some countries don’t place families with children in detention at all, while some detain children together with convicted adult felons. In all of the cases, children are detained for the same reason adults are detained: they do not have the documentation allowing them to cross international borders. Children are also being detained on the premise that it is not in the best interest of the child to be separated from his or her family.
Lack of statistics makes it difficult to know where children are detained – however, the Campaign estimates that over 100 countries detain children for immigration reasons. So far, the Campaign has focused on Australia, Malaysia, Israel, South Africa, Greece, Mexico and the USA; all states who detain children on the basis of their immigration status. Some states have taken positive steps toward ending the immigration detention of children. In such states, migrant children are either not detained or there is a provision for the release of migrant children from detention in law, policy or practice.
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. As indicated by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “there is a great lack of quantitative and qualitative data, research and verified information” on the number of children deprived of liberty each year.