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UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty


'The success of the Study will be due, in no small part, to the contribution and presence of DCI.' Manfred Nowak, Indipendent Expert of the Study on Children Deprived of Liberty


Children who are deprived of liberty fall into a statistical vacuum, with numbers of these children potentially ranging anywhere from the tens of thousands to the millions” – Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General


The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty aims to shed light on the situation of children deprived of liberty and present recommendations to ensure that deprivation of liberty is a measure of last resort.

Defence for Children International led the campaign calling for the Study and currently co-convenes its NGO Panel.


The Study, which officially started in 2017, is led by Manfred Nowak, Professor of International Law and Human Rights and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who was appointed as the Independent Expert on 25 October 2016.

Aim of the Study

  • Collect qualitative and quantitative data to document the situation of children deprived of liberty, in all its forms

  • Assess the implementation of applicable international laws and standards, and the effectiveness of existing approaches

  • Identify good practices;

  • Formulate recommendations for action at national, regional and international level



Thematic clusters


  • Criminal justice / juvenile justice / administrative detention

  • Migration / asylum seeking

  • Children in detention with their parents

  • Protection / associated with disability, health or substance abuse

  • Association with armed groups and/or national security


DCI’s flagship project, the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, forms a core part of our work on Justice for Children.  The report of the Global Study was presented to the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly in New York on 8 October 2019, whilst the full UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty study was launched on 19 November in Geneva during the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  After the official launches in New York and Geneva, regional and national launches will be taking place.

The Global Study includes chapters on administration of justice, on children living in places of detention with their parents, on children deprived of liberty for migration-related reasons, on children deprived of liberty in institutions; children deprived of liberty related to armed conflict; and children deprived of liberty related to national security.  It reveals that, altogether, a minimum of between 1.3 and 1.5 million children are deprived of liberty per year.  Of those, the largest number are in institutions (430,000–680,000), followed by those in the administration of justice (410,000), migration-related detention (330,000), in armed conflict situations (35,000) and for national security reasons (1,500).  An additional 19,000 children are living with their primary caregivers in prisons.

DCI and the NGO Panel remain very committed to share the important recommendations of the Global Study and, together with relevant UN bodies and States, identify the most appropriate follow up after the implementation of the good practices identified.  As Prof. Manfred Nowak outlined: “if there is no follow-up, the work done will be lost.”

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