Estimating the number of children deprived of liberty in the administration of justice

November 14, 2021

Children in conflict with the law – children alleged as, accused of or recognized as having committed a criminal offence – are guaranteed protection and fundamental human rights through several international and regional instruments concerned with child justice. Yet, children are often held in police custody, detention centres, prisons and other custodial settings in violation of international treaties, norms and standards.

While there is wide recognition of the devastating impact that even one day in detention and incarceration has on a child’s physical, emotional and mental development, the actual number of children in conflict with the law, both globally and in many countries, is unknown due to incomplete record-keeping and undeveloped administrative data systems in many countries. Without good data on children deprived of liberty, it is impossible to understand the extent to which children are exposed to different forms of detention and to effectively monitor and evaluate the impact of related policies and programmes.

Understanding the current status of justice for children is essential to call attention to immediate and long-term measures that need to be put in place to prevent child offending and ensure that the rights of children in conflict with the law are respected, including their safety and well-being. This report provides an overview of the availability of administrative records of children in conflict with the law and presents global and regional estimates using the existing country-level data. These estimates of children in detention may offer guidance to governments on where to focus juvenile justice and child protection reforms, including efforts to strengthen administrative data systems.


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