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U.S. has world highest rate of children in detention, U.N. says

The United States has the highest rate of incarcerating children worldwide, including more than 100,000 under 18s who are held in immigration-related custody that violates international law, the author of a U.N. study said on Monday (November 18).

Worldwide more than 7 million children are held in prisons and police custody, including 330,000 due to their immigration status, independent expert Manfred Nowak said, presenting The United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.

Children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible, it said.

Nowak said U.S. child migrants’ detention was an “inhuman treatment for both the parents and the children”. 

Noting that the United States is the only country in the world not to have ratified that pact, he said it has ratified major international treaties such as those guaranteeing civil and political rights and banning torture.

“The way how they were separating infants form the families only in order to deter irregular migration form central America to the United States of America, for me constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment and that is absolutely prohibited by the two treaties”, said Nowak, a professor of international law at the University of Vienna. “I am deeply convinced that these are violations of international law”.

The United States detains an average of 60 out of every 100,000 children in either its justice system or immigration-related custody, Nowak said.

The U.S. rate compared with an average of about 5 per 100,000 in Western Europe and 14 to 15 in Canada, he said. 

At least 29,000 children, mainly linked to Islamic State fighters, are held in northern Syria and in Iraq – with French citizens among the biggest group of foreigners, Nowak said. 

“The main recommendation is treat those children – even if they were recruited as child soldiers and have committed crimes – treat them primarily as victims and not as perpetrators and try to find ways for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. And it also applies to children primarily from European origin or also central-Asian origin”, he said.

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