The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) have released a statement warning of the grave physical, emotional and psychological effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children globally. The Committee have made 11 recommendations for States which include specific recommendations for children coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
The Committee calls on States to respect and protect the rights of children and makes 11 recommendations. They expressed particular concern for children in situations of vulnerability due to the effects of COVID-19, as well as those in countries that have declared states of emergencies and/or mandatory lockdowns. The following recommendations are directly relevant to children and young people coming into contact with the police and criminal justice system:
- Protect children whose vulnerability is further increased by the exceptional circumstances by the pandemic. These include particularly vulnerable children such as minority children, children deprived of their liberty or confined in police lock-up facilities, prisons, secure care centres, migrant detention centres or camps, and children living in institutions.
- Release children in all forms of detention, whenever possible, and provide children who cannot be released with the means to maintain regular contact with their families. State imposed measures to restrict visits and contact opportunities for children living in institutions or deprived of their liberty, including children confined in police institutions, prisons, secure centres, migration detention centres or camps, will have a marked negative effect on children. Children should at all times be allowed to maintain regular contact with their families
- Prevent the arrest or detention of children for violating State guidance and directives relating to COVID-19.
- Disseminate accurate information about COVID-19 and how to prevent infection in languages and formats that are child-friendly and accessible to all children.
- Provide opportunities for children’s views to be heard and taken into account in decision-making processes on the pandemic.
This is a welcome statement by the UNCRC. It stresses the damaging impact of COVID-19 on children and young people, by upsetting their personal lives, disrupting their educational and developmental opportunities, as well as restricting their human rights. Moreover, the pandemic has the effect of amplifying children’s existing vulnerabilities, as their access to vital welfare, healthcare, and education resources is hindered not only by their socio-economic circumstances but by restrictive lockdown measures.
The UNCRC statement recognises that children and young people, who may be deprived of their liberty or confined in police lock-up facilities, prisons, secure care centres, or living in institutions, are particularly vulnerable and in need of additional protection. These factors should not be overlooked by states in implementing and extending measures to address the pandemic, and the principles of the best interests of the child must continue to be applied at all times.
Importantly, the UNCRC urges all States to release children in all forms of detention and refrain from arresting or detaining children for violating State guidance and directives relating to COVID-19. This is further supported by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) COVID-19 Guidance, which states: there should be a moratorium on children entering detention, and states should release all children from detention who can be safely released.
Read the full statement here.