Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Children in Detention

Children sleep in cramped conditions in a holding cell at a US Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, USA. File: Eric Gay/AP Photo

Protesters hold signs outside of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children while members of US Congress tour the facility. File: Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Since the earliest times, humanity has been on the move. 

For whatever reason, be it for economic motives or to flee from conflict and persecution. And these days, people, also move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, or other environmental factors. 

According to the United Nations, more people today than ever live in a country other than the one in which they were born. In 2019, the number of migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million, 51 million more than in 2010. 

Lest we forget, not all migrants are welcomed with open arms. 

On Monday, a UN study revealed that worldwide, more than seven million people under age 18 are held in jails and police custody – including 330,000 in immigration detention centers spread out in 80 countries. 

Lead author of the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, Manfred Nowak (left), pointed the finger at the US of A as having the world's highest rate of children in detention, often in violation of international law! 

It’s true! The sole superpower, supposedly the bastion of freedom and democracy accounts for nearly a third of such detentions! 

"The total number currently detained is 103,000", Nowak told AFP, calling it a "conservative" assessment, based on the latest available official data as well as "very reliable" additional sources. 

The migration is mostly from Central America – and it is not a new phenomenon, by the way. The Northern Triangle of Central America (“NTCA”), composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth – and this results in unprecedented levels of migration. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has labelled this a humanitarian crisis. Many Central Americans are refugees who are fleeing for their lives. 

What is most shocking is the number of unaccompanied children who are seeking refuge outside their country. According to the Federation for American Scientists in 2014 alone, US authorities documented 68,500 unaccompanied children from the NTCA at the US-Mexico border. 

Interviewed children predominantly cited the following reasons for fleeing the region: Fleeing violence in their community and/or home; actively avoiding recruitment into gangs; and avoiding exploitation in the form of prostitution or human trafficking. 

Since coming to office, US President Donald Trump (right) has made strict immigration policies a cornerstone of his presidency. Under his "zero-tolerance" policy at the border, his government implemented a practice of separating families. 

Following public outrage, Trump formally ended the practice in June 2018, but immigration advocates say family separation continues. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported in July 2019 that over 700 children have been separated from their parents after the policy's official end. And in that same month, it was reported that as many as five children per day were being separated, and by October, the total had reached 1,090. 

Nowak declared that separating children, as was done by the Trump administration, from their parents is absolutely prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

“I would call it inhuman treatment for both the parents and the children", he lashed out. Linguists would be keenly aware that the word he used was “inhuman”, not “inhumane”. 

Nowak added that Mexico, where many Central American migrants have been turned back at the US border, also has high numbers, with 18,000 children in immigration-related detention and 7,000 in prisons. 

The UN study drew attention to the violations of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which mandates that child detentions be used "only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time". 

The US is the only UN member state that has NOT RATIFIED the convention which took effect in 1990. 

But Nowak said that did not absolve the Trump's administration of wrongdoing with respect to the detention of migrant children at the southern border with Mexico. 

The professor of international law at the University of Vienna, Austria had explained that even though the US has not endorsed the child rights convention, it is bound by the convention on civil and political rights, which forbids cruel and inhuman treatment. 

I agree. Child detentions should only occur in very exceptional cases. 

Shame on you, Donald Trump! Shame on you, America!

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